Restricting Accessing to Lethal Means - Research Findings

According to JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, restricting access to lethal means, such as erecting barriers on bridges, is one of the two most effective ways to prevent suicide (the other way is to train physicians to recognize and treat suicidal behavior). This conclusion was reached after 23 physicians and scientists from the United States, Europe, and Asia studied 40 years of published scientific research and reported their findings.

JAMA also noted that in Australia, suicide from sedative overdose increased when medications were relatively easy to procure and decreased when access was restricted. A similar result occurred in England when legislation was passed in 1998 that limited the pack size of analgesics and prohibited pharmacies from selling more than 32 tablets per customer (non-pharmacies were restricted from selling more than 16 tablets per customer). In 2004 the British Medical Journal reported that after the legislation was implemented there was a 22 percent reduction in suicides related to acetaminophen overdoses and a 30 percent reduction in liver transplants and hospital admissions to liver units (overdosing on acetaminophen severely damages the liver).

California’s “Strategic Plan on Suicide Prevention,” issued in 2008, supported the JAMA findings. It said, “Restricting access to lethal means can put time between the impulse to complete suicide and the act itself, allowing opportunities for the impulse to subside or warning signs to be recognized.”

A psychology professor at UC Berkeley and his team of graduate students tracked what happened to 515 people who were stopped from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. Using a list provided by the California Highway Patrol, and cross-checking it against death-certificate records, they found that 94 percent of thwarted bridge jumpers either were still alive 25 years later or had died by means other than suicide. Only 6 percent ended up taking their lives.

The same professor released a later study that showed a number of people drove across the Bay Bridge, which connects Oakland and San Francisco, in order to jump from the Golden Gate Bridge. None of the victims drove across the Golden Gate Bridge, however, in order to jump from the Bay Bridge.

Another researcher interviewed some of the survivors of Golden Gate Bridge jumps. Each one said that they only thought of jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. None of them had an alternate plan.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, 90 percent of people who attempt suicide and survive don't go on to die by suicide at a later date. While intuitively it may seem logical that people who are intent on killing themselves resort to any means possible, this belief isn’t supported by the facts.

A different approach to the problem appeared in the research publication Crisis. A study titled “Analysis of the Cost Effectiveness of a Suicide Barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge,” co-authored by Bridge Rail Foundation board member Dayna Whitmer and neurology professor David Woods, concluded that a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge would be highly cost-effective in reducing suicide mortality in the San Francisco Bay Area.


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