Dr Karen Galway (QUB) – Alcohol, Drugs and Suicide – interactions between misuse in the life course and at the time of death
While substance misuse is a recognised risk factor in suicide, relatively little is known about the relationship between lifetime misuse and misuse at the time of suicide. It is widely assumed that many cases of suicide, particularly in young people, are associated with illicit drug use. However an analysis of suicides in Northern Ireland over a two-year period indicates that prescription drugs and alcohol dominate the patterns of substance misuse in such deaths. The study analysed prescribed drug use and all forms of substance misuse at the time of death and cross matched this to any history of help seeking for pre-existing substance misuse problems. Based on research findings, this presentation argues that the relationship between substance misuse and suicide within the context of Northern Ireland may require better understanding, and that efforts to prevent suicide on this basis could be more accurately targeted. It further argues that the systems to monitor the incidence of substance misuse among those who die by suicide are currently inadequate. A review is urgently needed to develop evidence-based preventative policies that in addition to the relevant medical factors, incorporate the psychological issues and social contexts of vulnerable individuals.