Getting High to Die
The connection between death by opioid overdose and suicide by opioid overdose is a growing concern. Maria Oquendo, MD, the immediate past president of the American Psychiatric Association puts suicide by opioid overdose as between 25 and 45% of the deaths by overdose. Dr. Oquendo points to one study of overdoses which identified that 46% were suicides or undetermined. In another study involving 5 million veterans, women were at an eight-time risk for suicide and men were at a twofold risk.
If we take a step backward and examine the reasons why people become addicted to opioids mental health problems like depression and hopelessness become apparent. However, is this “a chicken or the egg” problem: do mental problems increase the potential for addiction or does addiction increase mental health problems.
One addict in recovery in Massachusetts, Mady Ohlman, and talks about setting up needles filled with heroin that she planned on doing-back-to-back because she wanted to die. Ohlman remembers getting off the floor after passing out in an angry mood because she was still alive. Ohlman, after 3 years of addiction, saw suicide by overdose as a painless way out. Her addiction had lead her into sex work, stealing from her mother, homeless and sleeping in her car-all things in life which she regarded as horrible. Ohlman said, “You realize getting clean would be a lot of work. And you realize dying would be a lot less painful. You also feel like you’ll be doing everyone else a favor if you die.”
Ohlman, who is now four years into her recovery, is among the approximately 40% of active drug users who struggle with depression, anxiety or other mental health issues which increase the risk for suicide.
Suicide by overdose may be a hidden part of the opioid addiction crisis, but it is a significant part, which underscores the connection between mental health problems and addiction. If you or a loved one struggles with addiction and mental health issues call Brookhaven before it’s too late at 888-298-4673 or 918-438-4257.
Resource: How Many Opioid Overdoses are Suicides? Martha Bebinger, Kaiser Health News, March 28, 2018