Nearly one in 10 people who commit suicide in the U.S. lived with chronic pain, says a new study.
According to Reuters, the study cannot prove that chronic pain contributed to people’s decision to commit suicide, although it suggests that chronic pain is a risk factor suicide.
The lead author, Dr. Emiko Petrosky, a medical epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said “we did see that mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety were more common among those with chronic pain.”
“Health care providers caring for patients with chronic pain should be aware of the risk for suicide,” Petrosky told Reuters Health. “Chronic pain is a huge public health problem. It’s essential that we improve chronic pain management through integrated patient centered management that includes mental health care in addition to medications for these patients.”
Estimations show that about 25 million adults in the U.S. experience some level of pain every day, while about 10.5 million experience severe pain every day.
The study collected data from the CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System from 18 states between 2003 and 2014. The study included 123,181 suicides, out of which 10,789 showed some indication of chronic pain.
However, the proportion of suicides committed by people with chronic pain increased from 7.4 percent in 2003, to 10.2 percent in 2014. This being said, the research team pointed out that the number of people with chronic pain also increased during that time.
A large portion of those who experience chronic pain, and committed suicide had back pain, cancer pain, and arthritis.
Those who suffered from chronic pain were three times as likely to have tested positive for opioids when they died. However, only 16.2 percent of those with chronic pain who committed suicide overdosed, while more than half used a firearm.
Dr. Paul Nestadt of the department of psychiatry and behavioral health at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore says that this is an important statistic. “Opioids are depressants and they increase the risk of depression,” said Nestadt, who is not affiliated with the new research. “Depression is one of the highest risk factors for completing suicide.”
The study does not indicate, says Dr. Michael L. Barnett, a health policy and management researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a primary care physician at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, anything about chronic pain management in this country.
Though “there aren’t any medications that seem to be effective for treating chronic pain. Both opioids and NSAIDs are pretty effective in treating acute pain, but not chronic pain. While people often want a pill that will fix things, comprehensive pain management is proven to be pretty effective.”
Dr. Ajay D. Wasan, vice president for scientific affairs at the American Academy of Pain Medicine and a professor of anesthesia and psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center said the problem with this type of study is you don’t know what other risk factors people had.
“Chronic pain is certainly an important risk factor, but we don’t know how important it is compared to other risk factors,” said Wasan, who was not affiliated with the new research. “Also, since chronic pain is not really coded well at the time of a suicide, this is probably an underestimate of the proportion of people who had chronic pain. We do know that chronic pain can be a deadly disease.”
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