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Hosted by Editor in Chief Lorenzo Norris, MD, Psychcast features mental health care professionals discussing the issues that most affect psychiatry.

Oct 30, 2019


Mark S. Gold, MD, joins Lorenzo Norris, MD, host of the MDedge Psychcast and editor in chief of MDedge Psychiatry, to discuss the intersection between the rise in suicide and the opioid crisis in the United States.

Dr. Gold is adjunct professor of psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis. He also serves on the editorial advisory board of MDedge Psychiatry. Previously, Dr. Gold served as distinguished professor and chairman of the psychiatry department at the University of Florida, Gainesville.

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  • This week in Psychiatry (01:11)
  • Interview with Dr. Gold (03:40)

This week in Psychiatry

Demeaning patient behavior takes an emotional toll on physicians
by Steve Cimino

Suicide and the opioid crisis

  • In 2017, more than 70,000 people died from overdose, and 47,600 of those deaths involved prescription or illicit opioids. Most coroners list the deaths as “accidental” unless there is a suicide note or the deceased spoke about an intent to die.
    • Chronic opioid self-administration changes the brain. The person becomes less high and more depressed over time.
  • The prevalence of depression is at least 50% in those with opioid use disorder. Some experts estimate that up to 30% of opioid overdoses are intentional and count as suicide. A person with opioid use disorder has 13 times the risk of attempting and completing suicide, compared with the general population.
  • Until recently, psychiatric evaluations and suicide assessments were not routine in the chain of events from opioid use to overdose to transition to medication-assisted treatment (MAT).
  • People whose overdoses are reversed by naloxone are prime candidates to ask whether an overdose was accidental. In an emergency department in Flint, Mich., 30% of overdose patients rescued with naloxone described their overdose as a suicide attempt.
  • Although some people revived with naloxone are angry, it is important to consider irritability and anhedonia that come from giving an opioid antagonist during a high.

Future of treatments in the opioid crisis

  • Much is still unknown. For example, there are no MAT options for either stimulant or cannabis use disorders, which are implicated in the morbidity and mortality of the overdose crisis. More research is needed to determine how long patients should be on MAT and when their brains “reset” after addiction.
  • Also, in the pipeline is advanced imaging showing how drug use changes a person’s neurocircuitry and genetics. The OPRM1 gene, for example, is a polymorphism whose presence predicts whether a person is more likely to become addicted after their first use of opiates and determines treatment resistance to recovery.
  • In the next year, efforts aimed at preventing overdoses and investigating the risk and rates of suicide are likely to continue.
  • If every patient with a high-dose opioid prescription were offered naloxone, nearly 9 million more naloxone prescriptions could have been dispensed in 2018. So, we might see state-level policies that seek to increase naloxone prescriptions to patients based on morphine equivalents.
  • Looking beyond overdoses and relapse prevention, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has identified novel targets focused on regenerating the reward system in order to return the brains of people with addictions to premorbid function after years of abuse.



Volkow N and Gordon J. Suicide deaths are a major component of the opioid crisis. NIDA. 2019 Sep 19.

Oquendo MA and Volkow ND. Suicide: A silent contributor to opioid-overdose deaths. New Engl J Med. 2018;378:1567-9.

5-point strategy to combat the opioid crisis. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Still not enough naloxone where it’s most needed. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2019 Aug 6.


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