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Treatment for opioid dependence has an important role in suicide prevention

Press release issued: 16 December 2021

Opioid agonist treatment, commonly methadone or buprenorphine, for people dependent on heroin or other opioid drugs has an important role to play in suicide prevention, according to University of Bristol-led research published in The Lancet Psychiatry.

People who are dependent on opioid drugs are at increased risk of suicide and self-harm. The researchers analysed the healthcare records of over 8,000 adults prescribed methadone or buprenorphine in primary care in England to see if there were particular times during and after drug treatment when they were most at risk. 

They found that these patients were, overall, seven and a half times more likely to die by suicide than the general population. In addition, they found that in the first month after treatment stopped, they were four times more likely to die by suicide and more than twice as likely to be hospitalised for self-harm, compared to during a stable period on drug treatment. 

Read the full University of Bristol press release

Paper: 'Self-harm and suicide during and after opiate agonist treatment: a cohort study of primary care patients in England' by Prianka Padmanathan et al. in The Lancet Psychiatry

Commentary: 'Opiate agonist treatment for suicide prevention' by Paul Nestadt and Alison Athey in The Lancet Psychiatry

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