A cross-sectional study of opioid involvement in non-poisoning suicide – risks and prevention opportunities

Maryann Mason*, Sarah B. Welch, Suzanne McLone, Tami Bartell, Patrick M. Lank, Karen Sheehan, Lori Ann Post

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Objective: To examine prevalence, demographic, and incident factors associated with opioid-positivity in Illinois suicide decedents who died by causes other than poisoning. Method: Cross-sectional study of Illinois’ suicide decedents occurring between January 2015 and December 2017. Data come from the National Violent Death Reporting System. We used Chi-square tests to compare decedent and incident circumstance characteristics by opioid toxicology screen status. Incident narratives were analyzed to obtain physical and mental health histories and circumstances related to fatal injury events. Results: Of 1007 non-poisoning suicide decedents screened for opioids, 16.4% were opioid-positive. White race, age 75 and over, and widowed or unknown marital status were associated with opioid-positivity. Among opioid-positive decedents, 25% had a history of substance use disorder (SUD), 61% depression, and 19% anxiety. The majority (52%) of opioid-positive decedents died by firearm, a higher percentage than opioid-negative decedents. Conclusion: The opioid overdose crisis largely has not overlapped with non-poisoning suicide in this study. Overall, our analyses have not identified additional risk factors for suicide among opioid-positive suicide decedents. However, the overlap between opioid-positivity, SUD, and physical and mental health problems found among decedents in our data suggest several suicide prevention opportunities. These include medication assisted treatment for SUD which has been shown to reduce suicide, screening for opioid/benzodiazepine overlap, and limiting access to lethal means during opioid use. Improved death scene investigations for substances and use of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to document prescriptions are needed to further understanding of the role of substances in non-poisoning suicide.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number767
JournalBMC public health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Chronic health conditions
  • Opioids
  • Substance misuse
  • Suicide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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