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Suicide Underestimated in the US

Update Date: Sep 16, 2015 10:40 PM EDT

Suicide is more widespread than currently believed, according to researchers.

According to government statistics, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. However, new research from the School of Public Health at West Virginia University suggests that in reality suicide accounts for far more deaths than estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers in the latest study many deaths labeled as accidental or unintentional injury death are actually drug-intoxication suicides. They wrote that the mislabeling "masks the overall magnitude of fatalities arising from deliberate, self-destructive behaviors. In so doing, it mutes the urgency for demanding effective preventive interventions, and is problematic as the nation experiences a persisting and growing epidemic of opioid and other drug-poisoning deaths," according to a news release.

The latest findings are important because mislabeling "hurts the search for understanding and prevention if the self-injury category arbitrarily is split into suicides and so-called 'accidents,' when most drug-intoxication deaths involve self-harm and deliberate behaviors," Ian Rockett, professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health at West Virginia University, said in a statement.

"At a time in the U.S. when there is increasing urgency to stem the tide of prescription- and opiate-related overdose deaths, we are failing to appreciate that most often the life circumstances and behaviors that contributed to these tragedies were similar to those we label as suicide -- except, in the latter, the intent to die was more clearly expressed," he added. "However someone felt immediately before death, many of the public health strategies to prevent these problems and preserve life are the same.

"We must begin to recognize and address the growth of deaths from self-harm through sustained interest, concern and action," Rockett concluded. "Successful prevention and treatment of drug abuse and misuse will have a positive multiplier effect psychologically, socially, and economically."

The latest findings are published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

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