Scale of suicides by pesticide poisoning revealed by new study

Scale of suicides by pesticide poisoning revealed by new study


Monday, 16 September, 2019

Professor Michael Eddleston and colleagues have published a study looking at the scale of suicides by pesticide positioning, where they analysed data from reports of national or global numbers of suicide by pesticide poisoning and found that approximately 15 million people worldwide might have died by this method since 1960. 

The researchers say that the introduction of hazardous pesticides into poor, rural communities during the Green Revolution is responsible for many of those deaths, and that numbers could be higher than that, as a large number of pesticide poisoning happens in areas without effective death registration systems. Hazardous pesticides, such as highly organophosphorus insecticides, have been widely used in rural communities since the 1960s, when high-yield crop varieties were introduced into agricultural practice around the world. Most rural communities do not have the facilities to use or store these safely, and easy access for people during times of stress has led to a global epidemic of death by self-poisoning. 

Researchers recommend strenghtening pesticide regulation across low and middle-income countries to prevent these deaths. For example, the number of suicides by pesticide poisoning has dropped by 75 per cent in Sri Lanka over the past 20 years because of revised policies on the availability and composition of pesticides within small rural communities, as well as improved poisoning treatment. 

Professor Michael Eddleston, Director of the Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention at the University of Edinburgh, said, “Suicide attempts often occur at short-lived moments of great stress. The easy availability of highly lethal means - like pesticides or guns - at these times massively increases the risk of the person dying. The absence of these highly toxic pesticides allows people to survive their poisoning attempt and then go on to find help in their communities and local mental health services. Many go on to live a long and fulfilling life.”