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Securing weapons, medications can save lives during a crisis
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This story is part of Lifelines, a Rocky Mountain PBS project focused on youth suicide prevention. This is one segment in a series of stories focused on how communities have responded after experiencing high rates of youth suicide. Find the full Learning Through Loss story here.

PREVIOUS SEGMENT:Behavioral health care is on site at Colorado Springs school-based clinic

If you have an immediate mental health crisis, please call Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-8255 or text TALK to 38255. Or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also chat with the Lifeline.

Insight with John Ferrugia

Securing weapons, medications can save lives during a crisis


When someone is in crisis, experts say it's vital to lock up weapons and medications.

As a volunteer at Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention Partnership in Colorado Springs, Pete Leizer talks with the community about prevention.

For Pete, the issue is personal. He lost his 14-year-old son Kyle to suicide three years ago, and moved to Colorado to work on healing.

“The loss of someone by suicide affects so many people,” Leizer said. “It's like dropping a water droplet into a pond and seeing the ripples.”

Resources: Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention Partnership hosts several support groups every week, and most are virtual during the pandemic.

In a county with many recreational firearms enthusiasts and a high rate of suicide, the partnership works to distribute cable locks for guns to the community to encourage people to store their weapons safely.

"[People] say, my kids are trained in firearm safety. They absolutely know how to use a firearm safely and how to handle it safely. What we're saying is that there is an importance to reduce the access to that firearm and create that pause in the situations where somebody is not mentally stable," said Cassandra Walton, executive director of Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention Partnership.

One of the city’s emergency departments at UCHealth Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs has also been distributing cable locks for firearms and lock boxes for firearms and medications, after a study conducted at that emergency department and others across the state suggested offering those items to families of suicidal youth who visited the emergency room made a difference.

“It was very life changing for me as an evaluator,” said Andrea Wood, the Zero Suicide coordinator at the hospital. “Here's what your child knows. They know where your weapon is located … and that means they can act on it. And it's usually a split [second] decision for kids and, and with a gun, usually they can't come back from that.”

The study followed up with families who had visited the emergency department to ask about their storage practices, then trained emergency room staff to counsel families about securing firearms and medications and offer them locking devices.

“What's really important is that we found on follow-up, the families who had received counseling in the phase after training, those families were at least twice as likely to have locked up firearms or medications at home. That really suggests that this kind of counseling by clinicians has an effect,” said Dr. Emmy Betz, a University of Colorado Anschutz associate professor and emergency physician who helped design the study.

Resources: Colorado gun storage map - Locations to safely store firearms until a crisis passes.

This idea is referred to as lethal means restriction, the thought that keeping someone in crisis from accessing the deadliest methods of attempting suicide will reduce deaths.

That’s important because researchers say the majority of people who survive suicide attempts do not try another method.

And the focus isn’t always on firearms. In Palo Alto, California, the community pushed to restrict access to its train crossings after an increase in youth suicide deaths.

Resources: Lock to Live walks you through lethal means restriction