From 2000 through 2018, over 500,000 calls were made to poison control centers in the U.S. to report suicide-related cases. A new study pointed out that a majority of these cases were associated with the use of easily available over-the-counter (OTC) drugs.
Antidepressants, over-the-counter analgesics (pain killers) and antipsychotics are the top three substances linked to suicide-related ingestions in the U.S. Of these, OTC pain killers are the only readily available substance without prescriptions.
Over-the-counter pain killers including aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen are available without prescriptions and have long been a staple in households for managing common ailments like fever. But the easy accessibility of these drugs enables people to take them in dangerous amounts.
“Because they are easy to purchase and can help alleviate a variety of symptoms, many families have over-the-counter pain relievers readily available in their homes, often in large quantities. Unfortunately, the easy access to these medications is likely a big part of the reason that they are used in suicide attempts and deaths. The fact that they are being used more often with more serious outcomes is cause for concern,” said the study’s co-author Alexandra Funk, who was the director of the Central Ohio Poison Center.
Researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy and the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital analyzed 549,807 calls made to the poison control centers and found that both the overall number and rate of suicide-related calls increased significantly during the period, News Medical reported.
Here’s what the study found:
The study also found that the rates of suicide-related cases involving ibuprofen and acetaminophen increased during the study period. Nearly one-third of cases involved exposure to multiple drugs and those cases were almost twice as likely to suffer serious consequences compared to those who indulged in a single substance.
An important initiative to reduce the suicidal use of these OTC analgesics would be to require unit-dose packaging for all solid forms of acetaminophen and aspirin sold to the public. Since suicidal ingestion is a highly impulsive act, such a method of packaging can help deter overdoses by limiting the amount of medication that can be extracted at one time.
“The U.S. should follow the lead of other countries that have successfully reduced suicidal ingestions of these medications by limiting the package size and quantity that can be purchased by an individual at one time,” said the study’s senior author Dr. Gary Smith.