As suicides rise, easy access to sleeping pills becomes a worry


We cannot verify prescriptions each time: Pharmacies

Sleeping pills remain easily accessible to  Bengalureans despite an increase in the number of suicides by their overdose.

NCRB data for accidental deaths and suicides in India showed that in the year 2020,  882 people committed suicide by consuming sleeping pills, which accounts for 0.6 percent of total suicide cases in India. In 2019, 753 cases of suicide by consuming sleeping pills were reported. 

Medical professionals usually avoid prescribing sedatives to patients unless the condition is extremely severe because of the side-effects. 

Dr R.K. Agarwal, a general physician, informed The Observer: “Doctors rarely prescribe strong sedatives to patients. Unless the patient has  gone through a major surgery or accident, or is facing  severe insomnia, we do not prefer such medications. The reason is that sleeping pills are very addictive. People can easily get dependent on that, or suffer from withdrawal. We do not want to promote that. So even if we do prescribe sleeping pills, we do it for a very short period.” 

However, obtaining sleeping pills is not a big deal for people as they are able to get it from local pharmacies. 

Yogesh Tiwari, the manager of a MedPlus store in Banashankari, said: “A lot of customers come to buy sleeping pills and hardly any of them has a proper prescription. But mild sedatives and sleeping aids are in  demand, so we do sell them. In addition to that, people can get fake prescriptions. We get so many customers in a day; it is hard to verify each and every one of them.”

 Karnataka  is one of the top five Indian states with the highest share of suicides for the past three years. In 2020, Karnataka recorded 12,259 suicides, accounting for 8 percent of total cases in the country. The number of suicide-attempt cases is more, but few are recorded.

Bheemsen Ghatage, the sub-inspector at the Cubbon Park police station, said: “We get a lot of such cases where people attempt suicide by taking sleeping pills. They are first to be sent to hospital. In most cases, they recover and then we close the memo. So a lot of these cases are not even recorded.”

Investigation of such cases does not yield many results. Ashwini G.A., the sub-inspector at the Ashok Nagar police station, shared: “In these cases, we do conduct investigation to make sure  that it is not a murder or a staged suicide. But it is not easy to track down the source of the pills.”

Increasing suicide cases are a cause of concern. Several suicide prevention helplines are listed on the Web. When The Observer tried to call some of these, none of them answered.

Dr Veena A. Satyanarayana, professor of clinical psychology at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS),  shared: “We cannot generalize this fact as many good services are also available out there; but, yes, these helpdesks need to work better on their maintenance. There is not enough training for the gatekeepers to deal with suicidal people.”

Every year, more than 1 lakh people commit suicide in India.  NCRB collects data on  these from police-recorded cases. However, the real number of suicides and attempted suicides  is higher. ‘Family Problems’ and ‘Illness’ were recorded as the major causes of suicides in 2020.


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