Thursday, April 4, 2013

Suicide and Firearms in Colorado

Recent local and national articles have highlighted Colorado gun violence, especially suicides. Each article pays particular attention to the role of physicians and emergency room staff in addressing gun violence.

A new University of Colorado study found that emergency-room doctors and nurses could prevent firearm suicides by asking far more often if patients in distress have access to guns. Read the full article in the Denver Post.

Recently, NPR highlighted one Colorado doctor's story of losing a patient to suicide. The doctor, Frank Dumont, "thinks more physicians would talk with their patients about guns if they got information about health risks associated with them." Harvard researchers want "to make it routine for family doctors to ask their patients about guns. One large study found that nearly half of all suicide victims had seen a primary care doctor within a month of killing themselves. So it's important for them to bring up suicide and possible means."

Despite the pivotal role of doctors in talking to their patients about suicide and firearms, many doctors feel differently about the role of gun regulation in reducing violence

A review of CDPHE data from the Colorado Violent Death Reporting System found that of all firearm deaths from 2004-2011, 76 percent were suicides. Mental Health America of Colorado published an opinion piece on addressing behavioral health issues to prevent suicides in Colorado as a result of that data.

What are we doing about this public health problem?

Means Restriction Education (MRE) is an effective programmatic intervention to reduce access to lethal means of suicide (e.g. firearms, poisons, medications, rope, chemicals and other hazardous materials). Means restriction is an important part of a comprehensive approach to suicide prevention and is listed on the Suicide Prevention Resource Center’s Best Practice Registry.

CDHPHE is collaborating with Children's Hospital Colorado and the Colorado Schools of Public Health to implement a standardized Means Restriction Education Program within the emergency department at Children’s Hospital modeled after this best practice program. This training will be provided to Children’s Hospital emergency department personnel to educate parents of youth at risk for suicide about ways to reduce easy access to all lethal means in the home. 

Piloting and assessing the MRE Program at Children’s Hospital will lay the foundation for implementing MRE in hospital emergency departments statewide.  This will increase the percentage of caregivers who know to reduce lethal means accessible to youth at risk for suicide.