Objectives: To determine the numbers and types of medicines dispensed around the time of death to people who die by suicide; to compare the medicines recently dispensed and those recorded in post mortem toxicology reports.
Design, setting, participants: Analysis of linked National Coronial Information System (NCIS) and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) data from the Australian Suicide Prevention using Health Linked Data (ASHLi) study, a population-based case series study of closed coronial cases for deaths of people in Australia aged ten years or more during 1 July 2013 – 10 October 2019 deemed by coroners to be the result of intentional self-harm.
Main outcome measures: Proportions of people to whom medicines were dispensed around the time of death, by medicine group, class, and specific medicine; comparison of medicines recently dispensed and those detected by post mortem toxicology.
Results: Toxicology reports were available for 13 541 of 14 206 people who died by suicide (95.3%; 10 246 men, 75.7%); poisoning with medicines contributed to 1163 deaths (8.6%). At least one PBS-subsidised medicine had been dispensed around the time of death to 7998 people (59.1%). For three medicine classes, the proportions of people in whom the medicines were detected post mortem and their death was deemed medicine-related were larger for those without records of recent dispensing than for people for whom they had been dispensed around the time of death: antidepressants (17.7% v 12.0%), anxiolytics (16.3% v 14.8%), and sedatives/hypnotics (24.3% v 16.5%). At least one recently dispensed medicine not detected post mortem was identified for 6208 people (45.8%).
Conclusions: A considerable proportion of people who died by suicide were not taking psychotropic medicines recently dispensed to them, suggesting non-adherence to pharmacotherapy, and a smaller than expected proportion were using antidepressants. Conversely, medicines that had not recently been dispensed were detected post mortem in many people for whom poisoning with medicines was a contributing factor, suggesting medicine stockpiling.