Psychotropic and other medicine use at time of death by suicide: a population-level analysis of linked dispensing and forensic toxicology data

Kate M. Chitty, Nicholas A. Buckley, Jessy Lim, Zein Ali, Jennifer L. Schumann, Rose Cairns, Benjamin Daniels, Sallie A. Pearson, David B. Preen, Andrea L. Schaffer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Objectives: To determine the numbers and types of medicines dispensed around the time of death to people who die by suicide; to compare the medicines recently dispensed and those recorded in post mortem toxicology reports. Design, setting, participants: Analysis of linked National Coronial Information System (NCIS) and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) data from the Australian Suicide Prevention using Health Linked Data (ASHLi) study, a population-based case series study of closed coronial cases for deaths of people in Australia aged ten years or more during 1 July 2013 – 10 October 2019 deemed by coroners to be the result of intentional self-harm. Main outcome measures: Proportions of people to whom medicines were dispensed around the time of death, by medicine group, class, and specific medicine; comparison of medicines recently dispensed and those detected by post mortem toxicology. Results: Toxicology reports were available for 13 541 of 14 206 people who died by suicide (95.3%; 10 246 men, 75.7%); poisoning with medicines contributed to 1163 deaths (8.6%). At least one PBS-subsidised medicine had been dispensed around the time of death to 7998 people (59.1%). For three medicine classes, the proportions of people in whom the medicines were detected post mortem and their death was deemed medicine-related were larger for those without records of recent dispensing than for people for whom they had been dispensed around the time of death: antidepressants (17.7% v 12.0%), anxiolytics (16.3% v 14.8%), and sedatives/hypnotics (24.3% v 16.5%). At least one recently dispensed medicine not detected post mortem was identified for 6208 people (45.8%). Conclusions: A considerable proportion of people who died by suicide were not taking psychotropic medicines recently dispensed to them, suggesting non-adherence to pharmacotherapy, and a smaller than expected proportion were using antidepressants. Conversely, medicines that had not recently been dispensed were detected post mortem in many people for whom poisoning with medicines was a contributing factor, suggesting medicine stockpiling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-69
Number of pages7
JournalMedical Journal of Australia
Volume219
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jul 2023

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