Prescription Drug Abuse Can Lead to Injection Drug Use

Misuse of prescription drugs is on the rise in recent years. Youth aged between 16 and 25 are increasingly abusing prescription opioid drugs. Very few studies have been conducted so far to understand the factors that are involved in the initiation of abuse of these drugs. This study was conducted to identify these factors and to investigate the relationship between the abuse of prescription drugs and addiction to other illicit drugs. The study found, “Prescription opioid misuse was a key feature of trajectories into injection drug use and/or heroin use amongst the sample of young injection drug users.”

Opioid drugs such as oxycodone and hydrocodone are often prescribed for relieving pain. These types of drugs induce psychic elation in their users. Thus, their long-term use results in drug dependence. In fact, after cannabis, these are the most common prescription drugs that are used before foraying into the use of illicit drugs. Nevertheless, very few studies have been done so far to understand the relationship between abuse of prescription drugs and addiction to illicit drugs. Understanding the factors which promote the abuse of prescription drugs may help in devising strategies to reduce the overall incidence of injection drug abuse in the community.

* The study included 50 injection-drug users, aged between 16 and 25, who were residing in New York and Los Angeles. All of them were white male youths. Those who abused prescription drugs at least three times and injected drugs at least once in the last three months were included in the study. This study was carried out between September 2008 and July 2009.
* The socio-demographic data of all participants was recorded.
* Using questionnaires, data was gathered regarding their first abuse of prescription drugs, the reason for using them, source from which they were obtained, and the feelings they experienced after using them..
* The chronology of use of prescription drugs, heroin and other injection drugs was also assessed.

* Socio-demographic data revealed that most of the participants were expelled from their school, most were homeless, and all were arrested and jailed at least once.
* Vocodine, which contains hydrocodone, was the most commonly abused prescription drug. Forty-one people consumed prescription drugs orally while eight sniffed them and one participant injected the drug.
* The most common source of prescription drugs was a friend (31), followed by the prescription of a family member (11) and own prescription (8).
* Fifteen participants injected a prescription opioid drug before heroin, while 25 injected heroin before prescription drugs. The remaining 10 never injected any prescription opioid drug.

Shortcomings/Next steps
Data regarding the first use of prescription drugs was collected by way of recall, which is subject to bias. Only those who indulged in injection drug use were included in the study. Moreover, all the participants were white, male, young adults. Hence, the findings of this study cannot be generalized to the community at large.

From 2005 to 2008, there was a steep increase in the cost of heroin and at the same time, there was a decline in its purity. During that period, there was a rise in the sales of prescription opioid drugs, especially from 2007-2008. This suggests that, there was an increased use of opioid drugs for illicit purposes. This study suggests that most adolescents start opioid drug abuse because of curiosity about the effects of drugs and because of pressure from friends. Prescription of family members is a major source of opioid drugs. Hence, parents must control the use of prescription opioid drugs at home, which would help in preventing addiction to illicit drugs in adolescents.

For More Information:
Initiation into Prescription Opioid Misuse amongst Young Injection Drug Users
Publication Journal: International Journal of Drug Policy, 2011
By Stephen E. Lankenau; Michelle Teti; Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and University of Missouri, Columbia

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