Opioid Prescribing and Suicide Risk

New research study estimates associations of regional change in opioid prescribing with total suicide deaths and suicide overdose deaths involving opioids.

The study, published this week in the American Journal of Psychiatry, comes as opioid-related overdoses have reached record highs.

The author of the study, and professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at Columbia University, Dr. Mark Olfson (MD, MPH), said the study can help medical experts understand the risks of opioids and think about how to prescribe pills safely.

The team looked at data from 2009 to 2017. During that time they looked at rates of opioid prescriptions, rates specifically for high-dose opioids, and for the number of long-term prescriptions. Additionally they looked to see what the rate was of having multiple opioid prescribers. They found during the study period there was a downward trend for all of the factors.

For Dr. Steven Siwek, founder of the Pain Center of Arizona, seeing patients who are grappling with issues related to mental health and suicide, alongside their use of opioids, is a common theme.

“Hopelessness is something that I see every day…and without the hope of stable pain control, without the hope of some level of someone listening, and addressing, and finding some component that allows these patients stable pain control, better level of functioning, and better quality of life, that hopelessness can spiral very quickly.”

He says that, for many of these patients, using opioids and other medications isn’t about eradicating their pain completely, but about reducing it and improving their quality of life.

One finding of the study was that the more opioid prescribers a person has, the more risk they are at. The study found that those with three or more opioid prescribers were at higher risk for suicide.


Mark Olfson, M.D., M.P.H., Timothy Waidmann, Ph.D., Marissa King, Ph.D., et al. (2023). Opioid Prescribing and Suicide Risk in the United States. American Journal of Psychiatry. Published Online: 11 Apr 2023. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.22020102 

John Loeppky. (April 12, 2023). How Opioid Prescriptions and Suicide Rates are Linked. Healthline. Retireved April 13, 2023 from: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/how-opioid-prescriptions-and-suicide-rates-are-linked 

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