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How Drug Use and Suicide are Related

I lost Keven to suicide in August during Drug Overdose Awareness Month.

I lost Anthony to overdose in September during Suicide Awareness Month.

So, this month’s blog post will show how closely these causes of death are related. I don't mean to alarm anyone with these statistics, but I think it's important to understand why awareness of both are so important.

A question frequently asked after a suicide is, “why?” In Keven’s case, he didn’t need to leave a note. He knew I’d know why.

The last words Keven said to me were, “I love you, Mom.” Prior to that he’d said, “I can’t do it, I will never be able to stop using drugs.” A few minutes later, I heard the gunshot. I didn’t have to wonder after 13 years of watching him suffer. His why was “hopelessness.”

Here are some hard to read statistics: *

  • Anyone with a history of Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is 14 times more likely to die by suicide.

  • 22% of suicide deaths involved alcohol intoxication, 20 percent, opioids

  • FIFTY PERCENT of suicides are associated with SUD

I keep hoping for the day when we have better access to treatment that works, is affordable and available when it’s needed, (not spending weeks waiting for a bed to open.) And even more so, we need accessible treatment for mental health care. The typical 72 hour hold for a psychiatric episode is not enough!

I want to see harm reduction as the norm and anyone - regardless of what type of insurance- should be able to receive medically assisted treatment for SUD. It’s often the people that don’t have money or insurance that need the help the most. Keven had Medi-Cal (Medicaid in other states) which paid for the meds but not the $150/month doctor visits. (His doctor was worth every penny - he sincerely cared about him.)

A frequent question about SUD is, “why can some people stop using and others can't"?

Mike works at a drug treatment center with young people (ages 13 - 17). I heard him share this explanation. For him, timing was everything, everything aligned at the right time (his desire for it, legal issues, his relationship with his wife, and some other factors).

He said, “Imagine a surfer out in the ocean waiting for a wave. They pass up a lot of waves because they are waiting for the right one to bring them to shore. Everything has to align for that wave to carry them all the way to the beach.”

This made more sense than anything else I’ve heard. I watched Keven and Anthony go to rehab and try to get sober time and time again. But there was always something that happened that upset the process.

Here are some things that keep a person from successful recovery and/or lead them to the hopelessness that causes them to end their life:

  • Legal issues/incarceration

  • Alienation from family and friends

  • Health (life-threatening infections, sepsis, organ failure, a weakened immune system, etc.)

  • Mental health disorders that co-occur with SUD (depression, anxiety, bipolar, etc.)

  • Homelessness

  • Financial problems/unemployment

  • Loss of self-respect and self-worth

  • Social isolation (due to shame, guilt, or fear of judgment)

  • Lack of support from others

  • Cognitive impairment and memory issues

  • Risky behaviors that lead to all the above

So, this month and next, when you notice purple and purple/teal ribbons, graphics, t-shirts, etc. please think about this. It may not affect your family, in that case be thankful, but also remember:

You can't say "not my kid" because with the fentanyl crisis, every child/teen/adult who chooses to take ANY pill not prescribed directly to them is at risk of dying. We cannot ignore this fact. AWARENESS is the first step to solving any problem.

The importance of educating families about the fentanyl crisis can't be ignored! We often hear the phrase "One Pill Can Kill" and its 100% true. But please be aware that fentanyl is highly addictive as well and has replaced heroin on the streets.

Keven used fentanyl instead of heroin for the last two years of his life. Here's what he had to say about it:

"Heroin was my best friend but fentanyl is evil."

Please stay tuned for a candid interview with someone who has used and sold fentanyl. He is sharing what he knows in order to help others.

As always, thanks for reading!

*Statistics from National Institutes of Health (NIH) | Turning Discovery into Health by

Dr. Joshua Gordon, director of the National Institute of Mental

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse


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