Suicide Behavior Following PHQ-9 Screening Among Individuals With Substance Use Disorders

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J Addict Med


OBJECTIVES: Individuals with substance use disorders (SUD) are at risk for suicide, but no studies have assessed whether routinely administered screeners for suicidal ideation accurately identify outpatients with SUD who are at risk for suicide attempt or death.

METHODS: Data from more than 186,000 visits by over 55,000 patients with mental health and SUD diagnoses receiving care in 7 health systems were analyzed to determine whether responses to item 9 of the 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire, which assesses frequency of thoughts of death and self-harm, are associated with suicide outcomes after an outpatient visit. Odds of suicide attempt or death were computed using generalized estimating equations.

RESULTS: In bivariate analyses, a nearly 5-fold risk was observed for patients answering "nearly every day" relative to "not at all" among individuals who made a suicide attempt within 90 days (4.9% vs 1.1%; χ = 1151, P < 0.0001). At nearly half of visits (46%) followed by a suicide attempt within 90 days, patients responded "not at all." In logistic models, compared to "not at all," all other responses were associated with higher odds of suicide attempt or death within 90 days. Fully adjusted models attenuated results but odds of suicide attempt (AOR = 3.24, CI: 2.69-3.91) and suicide death (AOR = 5.67, CI: 2.0-16.1) remained high for those reporting "nearly every day."

CONCLUSIONS: In people with SUD, increasing Patient Health Questionnaire item 9 response predicts increased risk of subsequent suicidal behavior and should prompt intervention. However, clinicians should realize that those reporting "not at all" are not immune from subsequent suicide risk.

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ePub ahead of print