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Alarming Trend in New Jersey
Preteen Suicide Attempts Increasing, Especially in Young Females
(Newark, NJ) – Since January 2018, one hundred New Jersey preteens have attempted suicide by drug overdose, according to the state’s poison center data. New Jersey Poison Center experts are frequently called to assist in the medical management of such devastating cases by both the public and healthcare facilities. “This trend should sound the alarms – we have young children attempting suicide by overdose at a rate which continues to increase,” says Diane P. Calello, MD, Executive and Medical Director of the NJ Poison Control Center at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School’s Department of Emergency Medicine.
Suicide Attempt Cases (male and female, January 2018 to present)
Since New Jersey law does not require hospitals/healthcare facilities to report drug overdoses to the poison center, these numbers likely capture only part of the picture. “Suicide in young preteens is becoming more and more common, signaling a real public health threat for our state,” warns Calello. “Our suicide attempt data also brings to light the fact that almost 80 percent of these cases were young females.”
The New Jersey Poison Center data is reflective of national statistics for adolescent suicide by poisoning (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31054768). Most recently, research has suggested a 28% increase in suicide attempts in the month following the release of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, which chronicles one teen’s journey to a graphic death by suicide (https://www.jaacap.org/article/S0890-8567(19)30288-6/fulltext). While the authors cannot conclude the show caused these deaths, concerns have arisen about the potential for media to exert undue influence on preteen and adolescent behavior, especially if it fails to incorporate suicide prevention messaging.
Parents, caregivers, teachers, clergy, coaches, councilors and school administrators must heed the warming and be on the lookout for signs that a child is struggling and may be considering suicide. “Talking to your teens about identifying suicidal behaviors in peers is key. Often, a kid will express suicidal thoughts to friends through texts or on social media before taking their own life. Teaching our preteens and teens to speak up – right away – could be a critical life-saving intervention,” says Calello.
Of course, safe medication storage is essential as well. “We now know that keeping medicines up high and out of reach is not enough to prevent adolescent suicide,” says Bruce Ruck, Pharm.D., Managing Director of the NJ Poison Control Center. “Keeping medicines (prescription, over-the-counter, dietary, herbal, vitamins) locked up when not in use is a start. We urge you to take advantage of federal and state Drug Take-Back Days, as well as, permanent medicine drop boxes in your area to rid your house of medicines you don’t need. Teens will access medicines in their home for recreational use, but also for suicide.”
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” ― Benjamin Franklin
If anyone, regardless of age, has concerns or questions about the safety of prescription, over-the-counter or street drugs, the experts at the New Jersey Poison Center are a phone call away, 1-800-222-1222. “Every minute counts in drug overdose situations so do not guess, make the call immediately. As a medical emergency and information-based resource, our priority is to ensure the health and well-being of all New Jersey residents without hesitation or bias,” says Ruck. All calls to the poison center are confidential and free of charge.
If someone is unconscious, not breathing, hard to wake up, or seizing, call 9-1-1 immediately.
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