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The premier resource for hospital professionals from Relias Media, the trusted source for healthcare information and continuing education.

Suicide-Related Calls Involving OTC Analgesics on the Rise in Children

By Jason Schneider, Editor, Relias Media

Children between the ages of 6 and 19 years accounted for half of all suicide-related over-the-counter (OTC) analgesics cases, a recent study found. Among individuals of all ages, females represented 73% of cases.

In the study, published in Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety, researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy and the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital reviewed 549,807 calls made to Poison Control Centers in the United States to look for suicide-related cases involving OTC analgesics (such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and acetylsalicyclic acid [aspirin]) from 2009 through 2018. They found the overall number of cases increased by 57% and the rate of cases increased by 34% during the period. Increasing exposures among 6- to 19-year-old females was the primary driver of the trend.

The researchers also found an increase in the severity of exposures: a 64% increase in the proportion of calls resulting in a serious medical outcome and a 29% increase in those resulting in admission to a healthcare facility. Acetaminophen alone accounted for nearly half (48%) of cases, with ibuprofen involved in 33% and aspirin in 19%.

Disproportionately, acetaminophen accounted for 65% of deaths and aspirin for 33%. When compared to other analgesics, aspirin resulted in the greatest proportion of admissions to a healthcare facility (68%) and in serious medical outcomes (36%).

Thirty-two percent of cases involved exposure to multiple substances. Compared to individuals who were exposed to a single substance, these cases were twice as likely to have a serious medical outcome and almost twice as likely to result in admission to a healthcare facility.

“Because they are easy to purchase and can help alleviate a variety of symptoms, many families have over-the-counter pain relievers readily available in their homes, often in large quantities,” said Alexandra Funk, PharmD, D.ABAT, co-author of the study and director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Unfortunately, the easy access to these medications is likely a big part of the reason that they are used in suicide attempts and deaths. The fact that they are being used more often with more serious outcomes is cause for concern.”