The opioid crisis has stretched across our state and our country. It has devastated lives, families and communities. Likewise, people everywhere have been touched by suicide. Equally complex and difficult issues, opioid addiction and suicide are often linked and can have tragic consequences.
Today, as we work through our new reality due to the coronavirus pandemic, it can be hard to understand just how many people are suffering. Worldwide, those who are struggling with mental health issues and substance use disorders are carrying particularly heavy burdens, the effects of which can impact entire families and communities.
People affected by addiction, suicide, or both – either directly or in connection with a loved one – need support and resources from an informed and caring community. Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE.org) has worked for over 30 years to prevent suicide through public awareness and education, reduce stigma, and serve as a resource for those touched by suicide. Our multi-media campaigns have been seen over 1 billion times; our educational programs reach more than 25,000 people each year and we distribute over 60,000 materials for prevention and grief annually.
SAVE is a proud partner of the Rx Abuse Leadership Initiative (RALI) of Minnesota and we are encouraged by the work that we are witnessing across the state. Like SAVE, RALI wants to make a difference through education and prevention by sharing resources that help local communities address the opioid crisis in their hometowns. Bringing together groups with different strengths and ideas helps elevate solutions that are working. A major part of RALI’s work includes teaching parents, teachers, and caregivers how to identify the warning signs of substance misuse, just like SAVE teaches on the warning signs of suicide. RALI recently unveiled a virtual experience in which visitors can take an interactive tour of teenager’s bedroom, learning what to look for at home that could indicate a problem. Research tells us that early recognition and intervention can be the key to saving lives – both from addiction and suicide.
In the wake of the national opioid epidemic, it is important to remember the ways in which we can help our communities address both addiction and suicide. As two of the leading causes of death in Minnesota, overdoses and suicide affect all of our communities. Addiction, particularly in cases of prescription medication misuse, can often lead to suicide, and it can take many layers of response to make a meaningful impact on outcomes. We must work to educate youth, adults, and healthcare professionals on best practices for prevention, treatment, and recovery – providing services and resources wherever possible.
COVID-19 has forced us out of routines, out of comfort zones, and into a world of unknowns. What we know for sure is the relationship between addiction and suicide necessitates the efforts of groups like RALI and SAVE, especially during these uncertain times. Together, we have the power to bring down the numbers that represent real parents, kids, and friends – and keep our communities healthy and safe.
Daniel J. Reidenberg, Psy.D., FAPA is the Executive Director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.