Drugs & Alcohol Lead to Dead Ends

Violent deaths broken down by drug type and gender

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) What role do drugs and alcohol play in homicide and suicide deaths? Are men and women at different risks for drug or alcohol involvement with a violent death?

A recent study looked at the autopsy reports of over 5,000 homicide and suicide deaths in Colorado over 5 years. Researchers found significant differences between drugs found in men and women at the time of their deaths, especially with cocaine and painkillers.

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Connor Sheehan, PhD student, from the Population Research Center and Department of Sociology at the University of Texas, and Jason Boardman, PhD, from the Institute of Behavioral Science and Department of Sociology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, worked together for the investigation.

For the study, 5,791 death records of adults aged 18 and older in Colorado from 2004-2009 were analyzed. The death records were found in the Colorado Violent Death Reporting System.

Due to the nature of the deaths - either homicide, suicide or accidental death - autopsies were performed on all cases included in the study, which included drug screening. Of the group, 77 percent were male, and homicide accounted for 17 percent of deaths, while suicide accounted for 83 percent of the deaths.

Researchers were looking for gender differences in the presence of alcohol and both legal and illegal drugs in each of the deaths.

Presence of substance in the system at time of death:

  • Alcohol: 49 percent in homicide and 30 percent in suicide
  • Cocaine: 21 percent in homicide and 4 percent in suicide
  • Amphetamines: 12 percent in homicide and 4 percent in suicide
  • Marijuana: 22 percent in homicide and 6 percent in suicide
  • Antidepressants: 3 percent in homicide and 11 percent in suicide
  • Opiates (painkillers): 4 percent in homicides and 11 percent in suicides

While the overall average showed only 12 percent of people in both homicide and suicide categories had no drugs in their systems, female homicide was the largest group with a clean drug screen at 20 percent of deaths.

Based on gender, 5 percent more men in homicides and 6 percent more men in suicides had alcohol in their system compared to women.

Amphetamines were present in 6 percent more male homicides than female homicides, but usage was equal across genders for suicide.

Cocaine usage was 14 percent higher in male homicide and 23 percent higher in male suicide compared to female rates.

Antidepressants were found in 3 percent of male and 4 percent of female homicides, and 17 percent of male and 32 percent of female suicides. Rates of suicide involving opiates were 27 percent for women and 16 percent for men.

Authors said, “Opiates and antidepressants are associated strongly with suicide, whereas amphetamines, marijuana and cocaine are associated with homicide.”

Authors continued, “Indeed, we found generally that the effects for illicit drugs predicting homicide are stronger for men than for women. Of course, drug tests identify the presence of drugs but do not distinguish between licit (legal) and illicit (illegal) drugs, and some homicides are unrelated to drug use, such as in random acts of violence.”

Authors recommended the study information support further research on links associated with substance use, demographics and violent deaths.

This study was published in November in Addiction. No conflicts of interest were reported. Funding for the study was supported in part by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 9, 2013
Last Updated:
January 11, 2013