Current Treatment Options in Psychiatry

, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 291–300 | Cite as

Death Ambivalence and Treatment Seeking: Suicidality in Opiate Addiction

  • Stacey C. Conroy
  • James M. BjorkEmail author
Substance Use Disorders (FG Moeller, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Substance Use Disorders


Purpose of review

Rates of suicide and opiate overdose have recently skyrocketed in the USA. In light of impulsivity and impaired motivation common in people with substance use disorders, suicidality is common in addiction.

Recent findings

Chart review surveys indicate two primary suicidal populations that are important to distinguish for clinical practice and healthcare policy. One group is heavily composed of people with substance use disorders, in whom chronic compulsive use fosters a numb ambivalence about death (low death intentionality). Many of these individuals with opiate use disorder (OUD) exaggerate suicidality to get prompt psychiatric care to treat the OUD. The second group is composed of those who have comorbid psychiatric disorders and/or chronic pain who have a higher intent to die consistent with traditionally understood suicide risk factors.


We contend that easier access to outpatient opiate agonist treatment would avoid unnecessary hospitalizations for death-ambivalent OUD patients and for OUD patients in either group. First-line treatment with an opioid agonist has high potential to effectively treat suicidal ideation as a secondary benefit.


Opiate use disorder Opiates Addiction Suicide Treatment Medication assisted therapy 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Stacey C. Conroy declares that she has no conflict of interest.

James M. Bjork declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Human and animal rights and informed consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

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Copyright information

© This is a U.S. Government work and not under copyright protection in the US; foreign copyright protection may apply 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Mental Health ServiceHunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Administration Medical CenterRichmondUSA

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