Injection Methamphetamine Users at Higher Risk for Suicide Attempt

Injection Methamphetamine Users at Higher Risk for Suicide Attempt

Methamphetamine is already one of riskiest drugs of abuse throughout the U.S. and worldwide-the highly addictive stimulant causing irreversible physical and cognitive impairments and too often death for thousands of users-but now researchers have discovered a new alarming trend among meth users that has remained rather undetected in previous studies. According to researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, injection methamphetamine users are significantly more likely than other injection drug users to attempt suicide-a difference by as much as 80%. The researchers’ findings have been published in the December issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Based on the latest data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), around 353,000 Americans ages 12 and older are current methamphetamine users (National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2010). Although the percent of the general population found to be current meth users is now lower than in previous years (0.1%), SAMHSA has also found U.S. treatment admissions for methamphetamine/amphetamine use has undergone dramatically swings between 1999 and 2005, ascending from 32 to 69 per 100,000 population, and currently standing at 44 per 100,000 population. In addition to the heightened risk for HIV/AIDS infection, the functional and molecular damage caused to the brain by injection meth use often causes severe mood disturbances in users such as depression, anxiety, paranoia, anger and aggression. This latest study, led by Dr. Brandon Marshall of Columbia, has now identified suicidal behavior to be an additional symptom of injection meth use, although the neural pathways that link the two behaviors will require further investigation. For now, Marshall and his team determine that the link may be due to a combination of neurobiological, structural, and social mechanisms in the brain, based on their findings from the study’s population.

In their investigation, Marshall and colleagues recruited injection methamphetamine users from the Vancouver Downtown Eastside where illicit drug use is known to be prevalent and HIV infection is widespread among the small neighborhood population. Through street outreach and interviews, the researchers gathered data on the participants for the Vancouver Injection Drug Users Study, a part of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS’ Urban Health Research Initiative, from 2001 to 2008, during which time participants completed semi-annual questionnaires on their drug use behavior, sociodemographics, and mental health including suicidal thoughts and attempts. The researchers used the participants’ self-reported data to determine whether injection methamphetamine use was a viable predictor of subsequent suicide attempt. Of the 1,873 qualified participants, 8% (149 persons, or 2.5 per 100 persons per year) reported having attempted suicide during the study’s time frame. The majority of injection methamphetamine users reporting suicidal behavior tended to be native, young females. In addition, the researchers found infrequent injection methamphetamine use to be a predictor of attempting suicide, while frequent injection methamphetamine use was linked to the highest risk for suicide attempt.

While the increased risk for suicidal behavior among injection meth users must be further investigated, Marshall and his team suggest that, in comparison to other illicit drug users, injection meth users tend to more antisocial, lacking support systems and experiencing significant isolation. Based on their findings, the study’s researchers highly recommend incorporating the monitoring of suicidal behavior into traditional substance abuse treatment methods, especially for this group of high-risk drug users. Whether it is through drug treatment or mental health outreach, the implementation of suicide prevention would benefit injection methamphetamine users and assist in the success of their recovery, according to the researchers.

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