Since January 2018, 100 New Jersey preteens have attempted suicide by drug overdose, according to data released by the New Jersey Poison Center.
“This trend should sound the alarms. We have young children attempting suicide by overdose at a rate which continues to increase,” says Diane Calello, executive and medical director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School’s Department of Emergency Medicine.
Calello notes that in the past 18 months, the Center has recorded three suicide attempts by 9-year-olds, seven attempts by 10-year-olds, 22 attempts by 11-year-olds and 68 attempts by 12-year-olds. This represents an increase of more than 100 percent since 2015. Almost 80 percent were girls.
Since New Jersey law does not require hospitals or healthcare facilities to report drug overdoses to the poison center, these numbers likely capture only part of the picture, she said.
The New Jersey Poison Center data is reflective of national statistics for adolescent suicide by poisoning. Research has suggested a 28 percent 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. Although no causal effect has been determined between the show and the trend, it raises concerns about the potential for media to exert undue influence on preteen and adolescent behavior, especially if it fails to incorporate suicide prevention messaging, Calello said.
“If you’re a parent, coach, teacher or friend, talking to 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.
Experts at the Poison Center also recommend securing medication in the home. “We now know that keeping medicines up high and out of reach is not enough to prevent adolescent suicide,” says Bruce Ruck, managing director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center. “Keeping medicines 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.”
The experts encourage children and adults with concerns or questions about the safety of prescription, over-the-counter or street drugs to contact New Jersey Poison Center by calling (800-222-1222) or chatting/texting through their website.