Chronic pain drives millions of Americans to suicideDaily Mail
September 11, 2018
Chronic pain from cancer, arthritis, and other conditions drives millions of people to suicide every year, a new report warns.
The mortal implications of pain have been widely discussed in recent years since the opioid epidemic showed painkillers can drive anyone to overdose, whether intentionally or not.
But a new report by the CDC warns overdoses account for a minority of deaths among people who suffer from chronic pain.
In recent years, the number of chronic pain patients intentionally taking their own lives has soared, with most cases committed using a firearm.
The researchers warn their findings highlight that suicide prevention should be a fundamental element of care for chronic pain patients, especially when their treatment involves highly-addictive, potentially lethal drugs.
Pain is a daily reality for at least 25 million Americans, according to national data. At least 10.5 million suffer severe pain on a daily basis.
New data compiled by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published today in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, hammer home why there is more to it than habitual discomfort.
Looking at just 18 states between 2003 and 2014, lead author Emiko Petrosky and colleagues found 123,181 people had committed suicide. A staggering nine percent of them (10,789) had been battling chronic pain, particularly from things like arthritis, cancer and back pain.
It was a connection that became stronger and stronger over the years. In 2003, 7.4 percent of suicide cases were tied to chronic pain. By 2014, that figure had risen to 10.2 percent.
Firearms are the most common cause of death for all suicides in America, but this study shows it is more common for people with pain (53.6 percent) than those without (51 percent). Meanwhile 16.2 percent of pain patients who committed suicide died by overdose.
The study also found chronic pain patients were more likely than others to have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and were much more likely than to have opioids in their system at the time of their death than those who were not suffering from pain (whether the drugs were a cause of death or not).
Writing in an editorial released in tandem with the study, Dr Mark Ilgen, of the department of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, says the findings show a clear need to 'raise hope in persons with chronic pain'.
'Suicide prevention involves making effective pain interventions more available,' he says, but warns that that is, clearly, not enough.
These interventions, Dr Ilgen explains, 'extend beyond providing access to opioids and should also include, if appropriate, other medications, interventional programs, physical therapy, and psychosocial approaches.'
'These pain-related interventions need to be supplemented with mental health treatment in persons with pain and depressive and anxiety-related symptoms to foster hope and help address suicidal thoughts and plans.'
For confidential support in the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-8255
For confidential support in the UK, call the Samaritans on 116123 or visit a local Samaritans branch, see www.samaritans.org for details.
For confidential support in Australia, call the Lifeline 24-hour crisis support on 13 11 14