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Overdose Attempts Skyrocket Among Teens, Young Adults: Study

HealthDay News
by -- Robert Preidt
Updated: May 1st 2019

new article illustration

WEDNESDAY, May 1, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- Suicide attempts by drug overdoses and other "self-poisonings" more than doubled among U.S. youth in the last decade, a new study reveals.

And attempts by girls and young women more than tripled during that time period, according to the analysis of National Poison Data System information.

Most of the self-poisonings "are drug overdoses, but they use a lot of over-the-counter meds [such as] acetaminophen, antihistamines, along with their prescription meds," explained study co-author Henry Spiller. He directs the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus.

The findings showed that there were more than 1.6 million intentional self-poisoning cases among 10- to 24-year-olds nationwide between 2000 and 2018 -- more than 71% (1.1 million) involving females.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Americans in that age group. While more males die by suicide, females attempt suicide more than males. Self-poisoning is the most common method in suicide attempts and third-most common method of suicide in teens, the researchers said.

"In youth overall, from 2010 to 2018, there was a 141% increase in attempts by self-poisoning reported to U.S. poison centers, which is concerning," Spiller said.

In a hospital news release, he added that "the severity of outcomes in adolescents has also increased, especially in 10- to 15-year-olds."

The study was published online May 1 in The Journal of Pediatrics.

Study co-author John Ackerman is the suicide prevention coordinator at the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

"Suicide in children under 12 years of age is still rare, but suicidal thoughts and attempts in this younger age group do occur, as these data show," he said in the news release.

Ackerman called on parents and caregivers not to panic, but to talk to their children and undertake suicide prevention strategies, such as storing medications safely and limiting access to things that could be deadly.

"There are many resources and crisis supports available around the clock to aid in the prevention of suicide, and suicide prevention needs to start early," he said.

Parents should regularly ask children how they are doing and if they ever have thoughts about suicide, Ackerman advised. That's especially important if parents detect warning signs, such as social media posts about feeling hopeless or wanting to die; a young person giving away prized possessions or suddenly becoming calm or cheerful after a long period of depression.

"There is no need to wait until there is a major crisis to talk about a plan to manage emotional distress. Actually, a good time to talk directly about suicide or mental health is when things are going well," Ackerman suggested.

If you or your child need immediate help due to suicidal thoughts, go to your local emergency department immediately or call the Nationwide Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting "START" to 741-741.

If you suspect an overdose, call the national Poison Help hotline at 1-800-222-1222.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on suicide prevention.