Access to Psychotropic Medication via Prescription Is Associated With Choice of Psychotropic Medication as Suicide Method: A Retrospective Study of 27,876 Suicide Attempts

J Clin Psychiatry. 2018 Nov 6;79(6):17m11982. doi: 10.4088/JCP.17m11982.


Objective: Whether physical access to psychotropic medication via prescription (ie, prescribed access) is associated with use of psychotropic medication as a means of subsequent suicide attempt remains unclear. In a population of suicide attempters, we investigated whether prescribed access to any psychotropic medication increased the likelihood of using any psychotropic drug in a suicide attempt and whether prescribed access to a specific psychotropic drug type increased the likelihood of using that specific psychotropic drug type in an attempt.

Methods: Case-control study design was used. We identified individuals receiving care for a suicide attempt (fatal or nonfatal) in emergency department and inpatient settings from a US insurance claims dataset (2006-2013) using relevant ICD-9-CM codes. Cases used a psychotropic drug in their suicide attempt, while controls used another method. Exposed individuals filled a psychotropic drug prescription within 90 days prior to the attempt. Multivariable logistic regression estimated odds ratios.

Results: A population of 27,876 (cases = 10,158, controls = 17,718) was included. Anxiolytics were used most in attempts (n = 6,037, 59.4%), followed by antidepressants (n = 3,573, 35.2%), antipsychotics or mood stabilizers (n = 1,168, 11.5%), and stimulants (n = 368, 3.6%). Thirteen percent (n = 1,316) used more than 1 type of psychotropic drug in the attempt. Across all psychotropic drug groups evaluated, individuals using psychotropic medication in a suicide attempt were significantly more likely to have had prescribed access (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] = 1.7; 95% CI, 1.6-1.9), with the highest drug type-specific odds ratios for antipsychotics or mood stabilizers (aOR = 6.5; 95% CI, 5.4-7.7) and stimulants (aOR = 7.6; 95% CI, 5.5-10.5).

Conclusions: Individuals at high risk for suicide with prescribed access to any psychotropic medication should be targeted for means safety interventions.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Aged
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Databases, Factual
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychotropic Drugs / poisoning*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Suicide, Attempted / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult


  • Psychotropic Drugs