New study show 49-percent rise in emergency department visits for drug related suicide attempts by females aged 50 and older from 2005 to 2009

The report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also shows that, while overall rates for these types of hospital emergency department visits by women of all ages remained relatively stable throughout this period, visits involving particular pharmaceuticals increased. For example, among females, emergency department visits for suicide attempts involving drugs to treat anxiety and insomnia increased 56-percent during this period – from 32,426 in 2005 to 50,548 in 2009.

Similarly, emergency department visits for suicide attempts among females involving pain relievers rose more than 30-percent from 36,563 in 2005 to 47,838 in 2009. The rise in the number of cases involving the misuse of two narcotic pain relievers, hydrocodone and oxycodone was particularly steep. There was a 67-percent increase in the number of cases involving hydrocodone (from 4,613 in 2005 to 7,715 in 2009), and a 210-percent increase in the number of these cases involving oxycodone (from 1,895 in 2005 to 5,875 in 2009).

“The steep rise in abuse of narcotic pain relievers by women is extremely dangerous and we are now seeing the result of this public health crisis in our emergency rooms,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D. “Emergency rooms should not be the frontline in our efforts to intervene.  Friends, family and all members of the community must do everything possible to help identify women who may be in crisis and do everything possible to reach out and get them needed help.”

Common warning signs of someone who may be at increased risk for suicide can include:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Displaying mood swings

People in crisis or concerned about someone they believe may be at risk for suicide should contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) for round-the-clock, immediate assistance anywhere in the country.

The release of this report coincides with a meeting today of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. The Action Alliance is working to accelerate the nation’s efforts to prevent and respond to suicide.

Trends in Emergency Department Visits for Drug-Related Suicide Attempts among Females: 2005-2009, was developed as part of SAMHSA’s strategic initiative on data, outcomes, and quality – an effort to inform policy makers and service providers on the nature and scope of behavioral health issues.  The report is based on data from the 2005 – 2009 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) reports.  DAWN is a public health surveillance system that monitors drug-related hospital emergency department visits reported throughout the nation.

The full report is available on the web at: For related publications and information, visit


SAMHSA is a public health agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. Its mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.

Media Contact: SAMHSA Press Office
Telephone: 240-276-2130