A Sharp Increase in Poisoning Suicides in Young People

May 2023

A boy walks alone down a school hallway with a worried look on his face while a group of kids laugh in the background.

Study shows a frightening trend among children and teens

As we’ve covered previously, recent years have seen an alarming increase in self-harm, suicide, and suicide attempts among children and teens. A new study sheds light on one particular suicide method that is on the rise in this population: poisoning.

The study, which was published last month in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, compared suspected suicide attempts by self-poisoning among young people aged 10-19 in 2019 and 2021. Overall, the rate of suspected self-poisoning suicide attempts increased by 30% in that two-year span.

The largest increase, 73%, was found among children aged 10-12. Self-poisoning attempts increased by 48.8% among adolescents aged 13-15. Females made up a larger portion of the increase than males.

“I think the group that really surprised us was the 10- to 12-year-old age group, where we saw a 73% increase, and I can tell you that from my clinical practice, this is what we’re seeing also,” study co-author Dr. Chris Holstege told CNN. “We’re seeing very young ages, ages that I didn’t used to see attempting suicide by poisoning.”

Common household medications are often used in suicide attempts

The study found that many of these youth suicide attempts involved over-the-counter (OTC) medications that are readily available in most homes. Suicide attempts involving acetaminophen (Tylenol) jumped 71% from 2019 to 2021, according to Dr. Holstege. Other commonly used substances include ibuprofen (sold under many brand names including Advil and Motrin) and diphenhydramine (Benadryl).

This trend is particularly disturbing because many children have easy access to these medications, often in large quantities.

In both children and adults, suicide is usually an impulsive decision, so limiting access to lethal means makes a significant difference in the outcome. Keeping even seemingly innocuous over-the-counter medications in a lockbox is a key step to preventing suicide attempts.

It’s also critical for parents and guardians to respond immediately and take their child right to the hospital if they suspect a self-poisoning attempt. The toxicity of medications like acetaminophen worsens over time, so the sooner the child receives medical attention, the better.

These findings highlight the need for improved youth mental health and suicide prevention services

While limiting access to potentially dangerous medications is an important part of suicide prevention, these findings also highlight the need to address the underlying causes of youth suicide. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, youth suicide rates were on the rise, but the pandemic supercharged what was already a troubling trend. While the worst of the pandemic itself has passed, children and adolescents remain emotionally vulnerable and at elevated risk of dying by suicide.

Greater investment is needed in youth mental health services to diagnose suicide risk factors and provide effective treatment. Parents, caregivers, educators, and others who work with children need to know the warning signs of suicide risk in children and respond accordingly. And pediatricians and other medical professionals who treat children likewise need to know the warning signs, appropriately diagnose suicide risk, and follow standards of care when working with suicidal patients.

Our law firm fights for children and families nationwide

There is nothing more tragic than losing a child to a preventable suicide. Unfortunately, that is the reality for too many American families today. If you have lost a loved one to suicide completion, the Law Offices of Skip Simpson can listen to your story and explain your legal rights and options. Contact us today for a free, confidential consultation. We are based in Texas but handle cases nationwide.

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