A suicide attempt can be secretly planned or done impulsively, with thoughts appearing suddenly and quickly evolving into action. In either case, prevention is nearly impossible. Instead, experts have found that a more reliable strategy to prevent deaths is to eliminate access to the means for a suicide.
UF Health Jacksonville’s Lock Bag Program does just that by suppling durable canvas bags equipped with a lock and key for parents and caregivers to secure medications and monitor use. The need for the program is great, as suicide is the second leading cause of death in people ages 10-24. In addition, the rates of youth suicide attempts in Duval County are double the national average, according to Duval County Public Schools’ 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Overdosing on medications in the home is the most common method of attempted suicide.
The Lock Bag Program began in 2023 with the support of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Overdose Data to Action grant, and through the Duval County Department of Health and the Health Planning Council of Northeast Florida. Program participation and the branded bag are offered at no cost to parents and caregivers.
Before receiving the lock bag, recipients register and participate in training. The program provides a key piece to suicide prevention and gives health care providers the opportunity to educate families about the risks of medications in the home and the reality of youth suicide.
Program mission and leadership
Community health workers started distributing medication lock bags at community events in Duval County under the leadership of Ann-Marie Knight, MHA, FACHE, UF Health Jacksonville’s vice president of community engagement. Three departments collaborate in the program: pediatrics, child and adolescent psychiatry, and pediatric emergency. Clinical Research Coordinator Brandi Wells, MPH, CCRC, is a key facilitator for the team effort.
Combining community outreach with clinical education allowed the UF Health Jacksonville Lock Bag Program to distribute more than 2,200 bags to date. About 85% of the now-participating families were not locking up medications at home before signing up and receiving the bags, and 43% of families indicated they were in possession of opiate-level medications at home. Approximately 84% of caregivers remarked they would feel safer if medications at home were stored locked. One week after receiving their lock bag, 75% of registered homes were storing medications locked.
The program was warmly received by caregivers who were grateful to have an easy way to store medications securely at home and even while they were traveling for vacation. Some program participants shared experiences with a family member’s suicide attempt by overdosing, expressing they wished they had received a lock bag sooner.
Visit UFHealthJax.org/lockbag for more information.