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Medical Examiner’s Office Recognized for Opioid/Suicide Research at Forensic Science Conference

by Christopher Harris , External Affairs Manager, Medical Examiner’s Office
three people standing in front of a posterLast week, the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office was recognized at the 46th Annual New England Seminar of Forensic Sciences for having the best original research poster presentation. The five-day conference, held at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, was attended by medical examiners, coroners, other physicians, and various medical/law enforcement/forensic personnel.

Dr. Thomas Gilson, Medical Examiner, Lydia Johnston, Medicolegal Death Investigator, and Haley Sechrist, Case Western Reserve University Medical Student, presented research entitled Suicide Peak and the Opioid Crisis in Cuyahoga County, Ohio.

In 2018, the number of suicides in Cuyahoga County increased significantly to 207 (176 in 2017). Since substance abuse (particularly opioids) is a major risk factor for suicide, the Medical Examiner’s Office hypothesized that the recent peak in suicides may be a delayed consequence of the opioid crisis.

bar chart displaying overdoses, vehicle accidents and suicides
 OARRS and Prescriptions
Their research analyzed suicide data from 2018 and compared it to accidental deaths with and without opioid abuse (fentanyl overdose deaths and motor vehicle accidents). Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Files and OARRS (Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System) data was used for their comparative analysis.

This analysis indicated that there were notable similarities between the overdose fatality victims and those individuals who took their own lives. Both were noted to be disproportionally white and male and were more likely to have had narcotics prescribed to them than individuals who died in car accidents.

“Suicide deaths have risen across the United States over the last two decades and the acute worsening of this trend is compelling as it may reflect another indirect negative consequence of the opioid epidemic,” said Dr. Thomas Gilson. “So far in 2019, it appears that suicide deaths are higher than previous years before 2018.”

Download a printable PDF of the Suicide Peak and the Opioid Crisis in Cuyahoga County, Ohio Research Poster.