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Oxycodone, hydromorphone, and the risk of suicide: a retrospective population-based case-control study

Mazereeuw G, Gomes T, Macdonald EM, Greaves S, Li P, Mamdani MM, Redelmeier DA, Juurlink DN. Drug Saf. 2020; Apr 23 [Epub ahead of print]. DOI:

Introduction — Opioids have been increasingly associated with suicide, but whether they are independent contributors is unclear. Oxycodone and hydromorphone are commonly prescribed high-potency opioids that can differentially affect mood.

Objective — The objective of this study was to explore whether oxycodone and hydromorphone are differentially associated with suicide.

Methods — We conducted a retrospective population-based case-control study in Ontario, Canada, from 1992 to 2014. Using coronial data, we defined case subjects as individuals who died by suicide involving an opioid overdose. Each of these was matched with up to four controls who died of accidental opioid overdose. We ascertained exposure to oxycodone, hydromorphone, and other opioids from postmortem toxicology testing. We used odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals to examine whether opioid-related suicide was disproportionately associated with oxycodone relative to hydromorphone.

Results — We identified 438 suicides and 1212 accidental deaths, each of which involved either oxycodone or hydromorphone but not both. The median age at death was 49 years and 51% were men. After adjusting for a history of self-harm, psychiatric illness, and exposure to other opioids, we found that oxycodone was more strongly associated with suicide than hydromorphone (adjusted odds ratio 1.59; 95% confidence interval 1.20–2.11). In a secondary analysis, we observed a trend of similar magnitude in which combined exposure to oxycodone and hydromorphone was more strongly associated with suicide than hydromorphone alone (adjusted odds ratio 1.68; 95% confidence interval 0.92–3.09).

Conclusions — While preliminary, these findings support the possibility that some high-potency opioids might independently influence the risk of suicide in susceptible individuals.