25 January 2018
Paul Lynch [FYI request #7059 email]
Dear Mr Lynch
Links between suicide deaths and addiction
Thank you for your request of 26 December, which we received when our office reopened on 3
January. You requested:
…statistics from the last 5 years for suicide deaths where there is a known link with
addiction to alcohol, drugs or gambling.
I'd also like information for the same period for suicide deaths where the deceased were
known to be on prescription medication.
As you may be aware, in recent years the Commission has established a Suicide Mortality
Review Committee (SuMRC)1 to investigate how to apply mortality review methods to reduce
the number of suicides in New Zealand. The report on the committee’s initial findings, issued in
May 2016,2 examined the feasibility of the approach and this eventually resulted in funding for
SuMRC to continue its work. The committee is now funded for five years and is starting a new
suicide mortality review programme in 2018 after a lull in 2016-17 when no funding was
The 2016 SuMRC study found ‘[t]here are stil some clear gaps in our knowledge, such as the
denominator data needed to understand the risk factors collected and analysed in the trial’.3
Unfortunately, the lack of denominator data means I am unable to answer your questions with
any level of certainty. Currently recording of alcohol or other drug use is not routinely done by
coroners in their reports on death by suicide.
Some research information suggests that the addictions you cite are likely to contribute to
suicide rates, but until more reliable data is assembled and coordinated, the Commission will
not be able to prove this. To my knowledge, no other government agency currently possesses
this level of detail in a usable form.
This is an area SuMRC hopes to explore further and to investigate if routine recording to alcohol
and other drugs can occur. I expect the committee to prioritise stronger and more integrated
data to inform both suicide reduction efforts and government policy-making. Due to the scale of
the work required, I cannot yet estimate when we will be in a position to answer questions like
yours, but I am optimistic that real progress will be made now we are working with the sector in
a focused, cross-agency work programme.
3 Report p.13.
You have the right to seek an investigation and review by the Ombudsman of this decision.
Information about how to make a complaint is available at www.ombudsman.parliament.nz
Dr Janice Wilson Chief Executive