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US suicide rates among older women have substantially increased over the past decade. We examined potential differences in sociodemographic and risk/precipitating factors among older female suicide decedents who died by drug overdose versus firearms, hanging/suffocation, and other means, and postmortem toxicology results by suicide means.
Data are from the 2005 to 2015 US National Violent Death Reporting System (N = 12,401 female decedents aged 50 years and over). We used three logistic regression models, with overdose versus firearms, overdose versus hanging/suffocation, and overdose versus “other” means as the dependent variables, to examine associations between suicide means and sociodemographic and risk/precipitating factors. χ2 tests were used to examine positive toxicology of prescription and illicit drugs by suicide means.
Compared to firearm users, overdose users were younger and had higher odds of having had previous suicide attempts/intent disclosures, mental disorders (e.g. depression/dysthymia: AOR = 1.18, 95% CI = 1.05–1.34), and substance abuse other than alcohol, but lower odds of having had relationship problems and any crisis. Compared to hanging/suffocation, overdose declined (AOR = 0.95, 95% CI = 0.93–0.97) during the study period and was less prevalent among Hispanic and Asian women and those with job/finance/housing problems. Toxicology reports showed that 47%, 43%, and 45% of overdose users were antidepressant, opiate, and benzodiazepine positive, respectively. Firearm users had the lowest rates of positive toxicology results for these drugs.
Suicide prevention should include limiting access to large quantities of prescription medications and firearms for those at risk of suicide. More effective mental health/substance abuse treatment and chronic illness management support are also needed.
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