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Chronic Pain May Drive Some to Suicide

HealthDay News
by -- Robert Preidt
Updated: Sep 10th 2018

new article illustration

MONDAY, Sept. 10, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- Suffering debilitating pain every day may be so unbearable that some decide to take their own lives, new research suggests.

More than 25 million U.S. adults have some level of daily pain, and 10.5 million have considerable pain every day.

In this study, researchers led by Dr. Emiko Petrosky from the U.S. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control analyzed data on more than 123,000 suicides in 18 states between 2003 and 2014.

In 8.8 percent of those suicides, there was evidence of chronic pain. And the percentage increased from 7.4 percent in 2003 to 10.2 percent in 2014.

Back pain, cancer pain and arthritis accounted for a large portion of chronic pain conditions in people who committed suicide, according to the study. The research also found that anxiety and depression were diagnosed more often in suicide victims with pain than in those without it.

More than half (54 percent) of suicide victims with chronic pain died of gun-related injuries and 16 percent by opioid overdose.

Among suicide victims with chronic pain for whom toxicology results were available, opioids were much more likely to be present at the time of death than in those without pain, according to the study.

It was published Sept. 10 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

But an accompanying editorial suggested the picture is more complicated than first appears.

"These results argue for a more nuanced view of the role of opioids in suicide among persons with pain," said editorial author Mark Ilgen, who's with the University of Michigan's department of psychiatry.

"The review of suicide notes provided by [the researchers] highlights that more than two-thirds of suicide decedents with a pain condition mentioned their pain, as well as longstanding suffering from this pain, as a direct contributor to the suicidal crisis," Ilgen said in the editorial.

"This observation highlights the need to improve pain treatment, not only for the direct effect on pain and functioning, but also as a method to raise hope in persons with chronic pain," he said.

The editorial noted that the role of opioids in suicide risk should be explored and suicide prevention should be a component of care for those suffering from chronic pain.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on chronic pain.