The opioid epidemic continues to destroy the nation. In 2020, the number of drug overdose deaths increased to approximately 93,000, including about 69,500 deaths involving opioid drugs. Unfortunately, suicide, a second epidemic, also claims tens of thousands of lives each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 45,000 people died from suicide in 2020. The number of suicide attempts is even higher; in 2019, there were about 30 suicide attempts for every death by suicide.
The opioid and suicide epidemics overlap. According to research, about 20 to 30 percent of opioid-overdose deaths are due to suicide. The Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative, or NIH HEAL Initiative, is studying ways to decrease suicide risk for people who misuse opioids or have opioid use disorder and in people with chronic pain.
The work of Hennepin Healthcare Division Director of Addiction Medicine and HHRI Investigator Gavin Bart, MD, PhD, and colleagues was recently featured in a NIH HEAL Research Spotlight – Taking Suicide Prevention into Primary Care Settings. The Research Spotlight highlights how Dr. Bart and other HEAL-funded investigators are developing tools for primary care providers to identify and help patients at risk of suicide.
Dr. Bart and researcher Rebecca Rossom, MD, at the HealthPartners Institute, are studying how to reduce suicide risk in people with opioid use disorder in primary care settings. They are working on a clinical decision tool that helps healthcare providers to evaluate patients for both opioid use disorder and suicide risk and, if required, provide appropriate resources. They will then assess how frequently providers use these assessments and whether they help patients pursue outpatient mental health care.
Dr. Bart and Dr. Rossom previously developed the Opioid Wizard, a clinical decision support tool that assists providers in finding and healing patients at high risk of opioid use disorder or overdose based on data in a patient’s electronic health record. Opioid Wizard uses approximately 149 data elements from electronic health records and 164 interaction terms to predict a patient’s risk. It also has an advanced algorithm. Now, Dr. Bart and Dr. Rossom are adding an element to the decision tool that will calculate suicide risk scores for these patients and, for those with high risk, will guide providers through a method of assessing and responding to an individual’s urgent suicide risk.
Read the full Research Spotlight on the NIH HEAL Initiative website: Taking Suicide Prevention into Primary Care Settings – 10/27/21