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Keywords:

  • forensic science;
  • pathology;
  • autopsy;
  • physician;
  • suicide;
  • depression;
  • substance abuse;
  • Medical Board

Abstract

Pathology files at Forensic Science South Australia were examined over a 14-year period, from January 1997 to March 2011 for cases of physician suicide. Nine cases were identified (ages, 30–69 years; median = 41 years; M:F = 3:1). Three cases (33.3%) had a history of prescription drug abuse, and eight cases (88.9%) died from lethal drug self-administration. Intravenous administration of drugs was the favored method in seven cases. In only one case was an alternative method used, involving jumping from a high building. A history of depression and/or suicidal ideation was noted in six cases (66.7%). The methods of self-destruction contrasted with the general population where hanging, carbon monoxide poisoning, and gunshot wounds are more common. Availability and knowledge of lethal effects have been shown to be important determinants in the choice of methods of suicide. Access to drugs should therefore be carefully monitored in physicians with histories of depression and/or substance abuse.