Researchers have discovered that drug users who inject methamphetamine have an 80 percent greater risk of attempting suicide than drug users who inject other substances.
The study, conducted by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the University of British Columbia, notes that while further investigation is needed to determine the link between injecting methamphetamine and suicidal behavior, researchers theorize it probably involves a combination of neurobiological, social, and structural mechanisms.
“Compared to other injection drug users, it is possible that methamphetamine users are more isolated and have poorer social support systems,” said lead author Brandon Marshall, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Mailman School of Public Health and research coordinator for the Urban Health Research Initiative in British Columbia. “The high rate of attempted suicide observed in this study suggests that suicide prevention efforts should be an integral part of substance abuse treatment programs. In addition, people who inject methamphetamine but are not in treatment would likely benefit from improved suicide risk assessment and other mental health support services within health care settings.”
The Vancouver Injection Drug Users Study is part of the ongoing British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS’ Urban Health Research Initiative, which focuses on the effects of substance use, infectious diseases, and the environment on the health of urban populations. Researchers note that Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is known as a center for illicit drug use, and fatalities from drug overdoses and drug-related violence are common.
Participation in the seven-year study, which ended in May 2008, was through word of mouth, street outreach, and referrals. The study included an interviewer-administered questionnaire on sociodemographic characteristics, drug use, treatment utilization, and HIV risk behaviors. The researchers evaluated 1,873 participants whose median age was 31. About 36 percent of participants were female and 32.1 percent were of Aboriginal ancestry. About 8 percent of study participants reported a suicide attempt.
The researchers also discovered that infrequent methamphetamine injection was a predictor of attempting suicide, while frequent methamphetamine injection was associated with the greatest risk of attempting suicide.
The study, published in the December issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence, was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.