Franklin James Cook

1/4 of Suicides in Large Study Exceeded Legal Alcohol Limit

In Research on June 23, 2009 at 10:51 pm

Staff writer Kristina Fiore reports in MedPage Today on a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing that almost one-fourth of suicide fatalities in a large database “had a blood alcohol level above the legal limit for driving a car.” The findings are especially significant because they are based on data from almost 19,000 suicides in 17 states over a two-year period, 70% of which included toxicology results for alcohol.

The percentage of suicides with high blood alcohol levels was greatest among American Indian/Alaska Natives at 37%, followed by 29% for Hispanics — findings that hold implications for culturally specific intervention programs, [said Dr. Alex Crosby of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control].

“Alcohol is connected to suicides across all [racial and ethnic] groups,” he said. “When programs try to address suicide prevention, they should definitely include alcohol as one component.”

The findings aren’t a surprise, since alcohol is a known risk factor in suicide, said Eric D. Caine, MD, chair of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

But the study is unique because it examines the role of alcohol in suicides across all ethnic groups — data that has been limited in prior studies, Dr. Crosby said.

“This is a really important paper because it underscores how much a common risk factor such as drinking contributes to something like suicide,” Dr. Caine said. “Here’s more data on how something like alcohol is fuel on the fire, and we need to ask ourselves what we are going to do about it.”

The paper by Dr. Crosby and his colleagues appears in the June 19 issue of “Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report.” SPNAC readers may download a copy of the paper.

The data are from the National Violent Death Reporting System, which “collects data on violent deaths from a variety of sources, including death certificates, police reports, medical examiner and coroner reports, and crime laboratories,” according to the NVDRS website.

Individually, these sources provide fragmented data that explain violence only in a narrow context. Together, these sources offer a more comprehensive picture of the circumstances surrounding a homicide or suicide. As a result, NVDRS provides insight into the optimal points for intervention, thus improving violence prevention efforts.

Because of its importance in making suicide prevention efforts in the United States more strategic and more effective, expanded funding for the NVDRS is one of the current public policy priorities of the Suicide Prevention Action Network (SPAN USA).

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