Suicide as a hidden contributor to the opioid crisis and the role that primary care and emergency medicine play in addressing it
Deaths from overdose have risen dramatically over the past decade, driven mainly by opioids. In response, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance on safe prescribing, safe storage of medications, Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), and the use of Naloxone to reverse an overdose. Even with this guidance, overdose deaths continue to rise. Suicide prevention is a strategy that may help address this problem. Suicide rose 32.4% between 1999 and 2019, from 10.5 to 13.9 per 100,000. Closely linked to overdose, the suicide rate among those with opioid use disorder is 87 per 100,000 population, six times that of the general US population. With multiple shared individual-level risk factors, strict standards for case ascertainment, and high potential for misclassification of opioid suicides, the distinction between overdose and suicide is often unclear, and the number of suicides is likely underestimated. The Surgeon General recently released a call to action for a public health approach to suicide prevention. Primary care and emergency departments have a major role to play. This commentary describes suicide as a hidden contributor to the opioid crisis; the rationale for integration of suicide prevention in primary care and emergency departments; and screening, education, brief intervention, and follow up and monitoring techniques that these settings can employ. Done effectively, this strategy has the potential to save countless lives.