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Suicide among heroin users: rates, risk factors and methods

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The current paper examines critically the literature on suicide rates, suicide risk factors and methods employed for suicide among heroin users, and compares these to those of the general population. Heroin users have a death rate 13 times that of their peers, and deaths among heroin users attributed to suicide range from 3–35%. Overall, heroin users are 14 times more likely than peers to die from suicide. The prevalence of attempted suicide is also many orders of magnitude greater than that of community samples. The major general population risk factors for suicide also apply to heroin users (gender, psychopathology, family¬† dysfunction and social isolation). Heroin users, however, have extremely wide exposure to these factors. They also carry additional risks specifically associated with heroin and other drug use. Drugs as a method of suicide play a larger role in suicide among heroin users than in the general population. Heroin, however, appears to play a relatively small role in suicide among this group. Overall, suicide is a major clinical issue among heroin users. It is concluded that suicide is a major problem that treatment agencies face, and which requires targeted intervention if the rates of suicide among this group are to decline.

Keywords: Depression; heroin; mortality; suicide

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Australia

Publication date: November 1, 2002

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