Death by suicide in patients enrolled in opioid agonist therapy (OAT) is a major clinical concern. However, little knowledge exists regarding suicide attempts in this patient group. This study presents the lifetime prevalence of suicide attempts and the associations between suicide attempts and clinical and sociodemographic variables such as education, sex, early onset of substance use (< 13 years of age), substance use patterns, and injecting substance use among patients receiving OAT.
We used data from a cohort of OAT patients in Norway obtained from a health assessment of self-reported suicide attempts and sociodemographic and clinical factors. A total of 595 patients receiving OAT were assessed from 2016 to 2020. A binary logistic regression analysis was performed and reported with an unadjusted odds ratio and 95% confidence intervals (OR). The purpose of this assessment was to analyze associations between suicide attempts and substance use patterns as well as the injection of substances during the 30 days leading up to the health assessment. A negative binomial regression analysis with an incidence rate ratio and 95% confidence intervals (IRR) was performed to investigate sex, education, early onset of substance use, and the number of suicide attempts.
Forty-one percent of the OAT patients had attempted to die by suicide at least once during their lifetime. An early onset of substance use was strongly associated with the suicide attempts (IRR: 1.7, 1.3–2.2). No significant association was found between suicide attempts and sex (IRR: 1.2, 0.9–1.6) or education (IRR: 0.6, 0.2–2.1). Likewise, no association was identified between suicide attempts and injecting substance use (OR: 0.9, 0.6–1.3), nor using alcohol (OR: 0.9, 0.7–1.3), amphetamines (OR: 1.0, 0.7–1.3), benzodiazepines (OR: 1.0, 0.7–1.4), cannabis (OR: 1.2, 0.9–1.7), cocaine (OR: 1.3, 0.6–3.0), or opioids (OR: 1.4, 0.9–2.0).
The lifetime prevalence of suicide attempts was alarmingly high in the OAT population. An early onset of substance use seemed to be an important risk factor for suicide attempts. Multiple actions are needed to prevent premature deaths by suicide in this high-risk population, and these include: health policies to prevent suicides, research on efficacy of suicide prevention interventions and clinical precision in management of patients with a high risk of suicide.