Suicide. A subject most people aren’t comfortable talking about. The word, with just seven letters, is usually uttered with a whisper when talking about the cause of death of a friend or family member. Add the word “teen” in front of “suicide” and the conversation moves to the shadows.
The stigma of suicide is keeping people from talking about this public health crisis even though the numbers, the names and the family members we are losing is rising. Data from calls to Florida’s Poison Information Centers released today show teens in this state are making a potentially fatal decision more often. “It’s staggering to see such huge increases” Florida Poison Information Center Director Dr. Dawn Sollee said after reviewing the numbers. “In 2019, three percent of our calls involved teens attempting suicide by ingesting a toxin. Two years later, we were are up to 5% with 2,000 additional calls a year. That’s an increase of 51%.
These are not just numbers. Each piece of data, each call, has a name associated with it. Those names connect to mothers, father, brothers, sisters, cousins and friends. Silence over suicide is keeping this public health crisis in the dark.
A recent nationwide review of poison center call data shows the problem is getting even younger nationwide. In an article published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, researchers at the Oregon poison Center, Pediatric Emergency and Child Psychiatry reported a fivefold increase in calls to poison control for suicide attempts by 10- to 12-year-olds from 2010 to 2020. The number of calls rose from 1058 in 2010 to 5,606 in 2020.
“With so many adolescents attempting to take their own lives, it is time for us to have a serious community conversation” Sollee said. “Our poison center calls on attempted teen suicide almost always involve having access to medicine. It’s not just prescription medicine; it’s also over the counter pain relivers that are available in almost every Florida home.” “Specially trained health care providers at poison centers are available at (800) 222-1222 to assess, triage and help if a person overdoses on a product, but it would wonderful if we could prevent the access to the product to begin with.”
A conversation we are more comfortable having is about medicine safety. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 50,000 children end up in emergency rooms each year because they get into medicine. Most of these are young children and the incidents are the results of accidents. It only takes a few seconds of adult inattention for a curious child to find medicine or vitamins and overdose. Now, with the addition of intentional ingestions, we are facing a national crisis.
Medications, vitamins and supplements are intended to make people feel well and stay healthy. However, any substance taken the wrong way, in the wrong amount by the wrong person can be toxic. This includes over the counter medicine.
The Florida Poison Information Center Network encourages parents to lock up all medications. Medication safes or lock boxes are made by several different suppliers. They provide a secure way to keep medicine out of unwanted hands. Lock bags are also a very good to keep substances from unwanted hands. The bags are various prices many starting less than $20 dollars. Locked medicine cabinets are several hundred dollars but the lock boxes can be purchased for less than $30.
“We have to make a change around the way handle medicine, supplements and the like in our homes,” Sollee said. “Too many children are getting hurt by accident and far too many have access to get hurt intentionally.”
Experts will tell you it’s hard to stop a very determined person from taking their own life, but not impossible. Evidence shows that providing support services and reducing access to means of self-harm are effective tools to help those in crisis. Knowing the risk factors and warning signs so you can help will change the conversation about suicide.
Limiting access to potential toxins will keep potentially dangerous substances out of the hands of our young. By changing the way we store our medicine and other substances we will hopefully not only reduce the number of attempted suicides, but we will reduce the number of accidental poisonings each year.
Teen suicide is an uncomfortable subject. Medication safety isn’t. We can stop two public health crises, young people attempting to harm themselves and children accidentally harming themselves, by raising our voices to push us to change our habits. Your Florida Poison Information Center Network is here to provide poisoning help in a time of need as well as to provide poisoning prevention education by contacting (800) 222-1222.