Deaths by suicide – do the numbers add up?
2 weeks ago, we had a call from a close friend in Northern Ireland, who was concerned about the rising rates of deaths by suicide amongst young people which she believed could, to a large degree, be possibly attributed to the use of ‘legal high’ drugs.
We’d first been made aware of these particular drugs in relation to their possible connection with suicides amongst prisoners, another sector which has seen a growing increase in deaths by suicide.
Today Sky News is running an horrific story of how a man, under the influence of Black Mamba, suffered a sever psychotic episode after taking it last year, slicing off his own nose in an act of grotesque mutilation.
It was the quick thinking and expertise of both Police and medical staff who saved this man’s life. As Birmingham Police Inspector Mat Minton told Sky News: “I believe the actions of these officers saved the man’s life. They were met with the sight of someone who’d mutilated himself and was outwardly displaying hostility and aggression towards them.”
Black Mamba and Spice, amongst others, are forms of synthetic Cannabis and until they were banned last year, were known as ‘legal highs’. It’s now illegal to possess these drugs after the Psychoactive Substances Act became law last year, and being caught with them could lead to a criminal record However, they are clearly still available, despite users being warned that serious side effects such as psychosis, organ failure and convulsions could result from their use.
Legal highs are stronger than natural cannabis but also replicate the effects of Tetrahydrocannabinol, which is Cannabis’s predominant psychoactive ingredient.
Superintendent Andy Parsons told Sky News: “Some people are still viewing Black Mamba as a low-risk drug substitute and are taking it without any consideration for their safety.
“But our view is that there is no safe way to use Spice or Mamba.”
“The reality is that these psychoactive substances can have catastrophic effects.”
Do we, therefore, based on the knowledge that suicide is an intentional act, ie, that someone fully realises their own death will result from their actions, have to consider that where these types of extremely powerful drugs can be attributed to extreme, bizarre and dangerous behaviour including self harm, that they could also be responsible for some unintentional deaths by suicide? And if someone takes their own life whilst under the influence, does that still make it suicide, or an act encouraged by the mental destabilisation of the drugs they have taken? If they hadn’t taken the drugs, would they still have taken their own lives at some point? Can these drugs induce self harm and/or suicidal behaviour the first time they’re used, or do the effects increase the more they take and the frequency involved? Or, conversely, did they take the drugs knowing it would give them the courage to indulge in self harm or suicide? And was this belief encouraged by the drugs damaging effect on their minds?
It’s a sobering thought to realise that some suicides may not in fact have been intentional acts.
For many people, social use of drugs and alcohol is part of growing up. Drugs traditionally remove inhibitions and create a false self confidence for the user. Some are lucky and once experimented with, they move on with their lives, having survived the process. For others, dependency hits hard and brings physical and psychological issues that cannot be overcome.
And simply because a drug addict knows that what they’re doing could result in their own death, does it mean they want to kill themselves? Or is it simply that the bodies overwhelming cravings are too powerful to resist and the final tragedy is simply waiting to happen?
Whatever the facts, one thing is certain. Drug education is vital. We must keep fighting to keep not only our streets, but our bodies and minds free from dangerous, deathly substances.