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New screening tool to identify teens at risk of suicide under development

The UA Department of Emergency Medicine has joined a network of emergency departments across the country to study a potential screening tool that helps identify teen patients at risk of suicide.

Emergency Department Screen for Teens at Risk for Suicide (ED-STARS) is funded by the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH). Emergency medicine researchers are developing algorithms to predict which adolescents are at higher risk for suicide. The data will be used to create a brief, personalized screening tool to improve risk identification and treatment planning. Once developed and validated, the screening tool will be made available to emergency departments nationwide, said Dale Woolridge, MD, PhD, professor of emergency medicine and pediatrics and the study’s principal investigator at the UA.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among U.S. teens ages 12-17. Most youth at high risk for suicide go unrecognized and untreated, and for half of adolescent suicides, the first suicide attempt is fatal.

A 2013 survey showed that as many as 2.7 percent of high school students nationwide made a suicide attempt resulting in injury or overdose requiring medical attention in the past year. The same survey also found that 8 percent of students reported having made at least one suicide attempt in the past year, and 13.6 percent reported having a plan for how they would kill themselves.

The ED-STARS study involves collaboration among emergency medicine researchers, the Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network (PECARN) and the Whiteriver PHS Indian Hospital. Participating emergency departments, such as Banner – University Medical Center Tucson, serve geographically and socially diverse populations.

The UA Department of Emergency Medicine Arizona Emergency Medicine Research Center (AEMRC) is the home of the PECARN Southwest Research Node. PECARN is the nation’s first federally funded pediatric research network dedicated to the prevention and management of acute illnesses and injuries in children.

“We are thrilled to be selected as a site for this important PECARN trial and look forward to working with our partners to successfully carry out this work” said Kurt Denninghoff, MD, principal investigator for the Southwest Research Node Center for PECARN and distinguished professor of emergency medicine.

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