By Pat Anson, PNN Editor
The nation’s suicide rate has been climbing steadily for over a decade and so have the number of suicides associated with chronic pain, according to a groundbreaking study by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The researchers looked at over 123,000 suicides in 18 states from 2003 to 2014 and found that about 10 percent of those who died either had chronic pain in their medical records or mentioned it in suicide notes. The percentage of suicides linked to pain grew from 7.4% in 2003 to 10.2% in 2014 – a 27 percent increase in just over a decade.
“Our results highlight the importance of pain in quality of life and premature death, and contribute to the growing body of evidence indicating that chronic pain might be an important risk factor for suicide,” said lead author Emiko Petrosky, MD, CDC National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
“The results probably underrepresent the true percentage of suicide decedents who had chronic pain, given the nature of the data and how they were captured.”
The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, is one of the first of its kind to explore the connection between pain and suicide – which is now the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
Nearly 45,000 Americans took their own lives in 2016, more than the number of poisoning deaths from illicit and prescription opioids.
Back pain was the most common condition involved in pain suicides, followed by cancer pain, arthritis, migraine and fibromyalgia. Anxiety and depression were also more likely to be diagnosed in pain suicides than in those without pain.
More than a quarter of the suicide victims with chronic pain (27.1%) had served in the military. Over half died from firearm injuries and 16.2% by opioid overdose.
“Although opioid prescribing to treat chronic pain has increased in recent years, we found that the percentage of decedents with chronic pain who died by opioid overdose did not change over time. This finding suggests that increases in opioid availability are not associated with greater suicide risk from opioid overdose among patients with chronic pain.” Petrosky said.
It’s worth noting that the 2003-2014 study period was before the CDC released its controversial guideline on opioid prescribing in 2016, a sea change event that many in the pain community blame for lack of access to opioid medication and growing number of patient suicides.
“I know that I could not stand my pain if my morphine is taken away,” one reader told us. “I will be a suicide statistic. Make sure the CDC gets blamed for my death.”
“I can only speak for myself how the CDC guidelines and the FORCED reduction of my pain medicine has brought my life to a near standstill. I get up in the mornings now and I think 5 out of those 7 mornings I sit here and cry,” said another.
“A few years ago I would've thought that the idea of deliberately driving people to suicide was a crazy conspiracy theory. Now I have almost no problem believing it,” wrote another reader.
As PNN has reported, the CDC is making no concerted effort to evaluate or track the impact of its opioid guideline on patients or on the quality of pain care. When asked if lack of access to opioid medication may be contributing to patient suicides, CDC officials would only say they were tracking opioid prescribing rates and “working on comprehensive pain management strategies.”