Briefly: Kaiser Lands $1.4 Million For Opioid Study

Researchers will look at the role of opioids in suicides to help tools for clinicians in hopes of preventing more people from taking their lives.

Kaiser Permanente's research center in Portland has landed a $1.4 million grant to study the role of opioids in suicide.

The grant, from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, comes amid a rising trend in opioid-related overdose deaths and suicides. In 2015, the age-adjusted suicide rate was 13.3 per 100,000 — a 27 percent jump from 1999, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Over the same period, the rate of suicides linked at least partly to opioids doubled, while the rate of opioid-related overdose deaths tripled.

The three-year study will be led by Bobbi Jo Yarborough, an investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in North Portland.

“We’ve done preliminary work suggesting that 22 to 37 percent of opioid-related overdoses are, in fact, suicides or suicide attempts,” Yarborough said in a statement. “While health-care settings are ideal places to intervene to prevent suicides, clinicians aren’t able to easily determine which of their patients are at elevated risk. Our ultimate goal is to develop the most accurate suicide risk prediction tools and put them into the hands of clinicians. If our study is successful, clinicians will have a powerful new resource in the fight against suicide.”

Researchers will comb through Kaiser's electronic health record system, looking for patterns. They'll then try to come up with tools for clinicians to use to prevent vulnerable patients from taking their own lives.

The existing suicide prediction models were developed under the Mental Health Research Network, a group of 13 research sites in U.S. health systems that serve 12.5 million patients. The models include a large number of variables that can predict the likelihood of a suicide attempt within 90 days of a mental health or primary care outpatient visit. These variables include medical, mental health and substance use disorder diagnoses; current and past prescriptions; and health care use patterns.

In the new study, researchers will evaluate illicit or prescribed opioid use, opioid use disorder, discontinuation or substantial dose reduction of prescription opioids and prior nonfatal opioid-related overdoses. Yarborough and her colleagues will also assess whether the strength of these risk predictors varies between men and women.

“We know that opioid use, opioid overdose and suicide are related, but we need much more specific information to guide our efforts at prevention,” said Dr. Gregory Simon, principal investigator of the Mental Health Research Network and a co-investigator on the study. “The findings from this study will be a great asset to the public health community.”