Recent Illicit Drug Abuse Linked to Opioid Misuse

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Individuals who used illegal drugs in the prior year were more likely to abuse prescription opioids.
Individuals who used illegal drugs in the prior year were more likely to abuse prescription opioids.

Understanding who is more likely to misuse prescription opioids can assist physicians with curbing abuse — even if the reason why these individuals have a higher likelihood of becoming addicted is undetermined. 

Published in Addictive Behaviors, a new report revealed that individuals who misuse prescription painkillers all have one thing in common: a history of recent illicit drug abuse.

University of Georgia researchers found that despite age, individuals who've used illegal drugs in the past year were more likely to misuse prescription opioids.

The difference is where abusers acquire their prescription drugs. According to the study, participants aged 50 and older were more likely to get a clinician to prescribe them pain relievers. Younger addicts were more likely to obtain them from other sources: friends, relatives or drug dealers.

For this study, UGA researchers reviewed more than 13,000 responses to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which collects data on a variety of subjects such tobacco, illicit drugs, prescription drugs and mental health. Survey respondents were aged 12 and older.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier in the year reported that there were 16,235 deaths involving prescription opioids in 2013, an increase of 1% from 2012.

Study author Orion Mowbray, PhD, told Clinical Pain Advisor that researchers are still unsure as to why individuals who've used illicit drugs within the past year are more likely to misuse prescription painkillers than those who've not. 

"On the one hand, these individuals could have significant unmanaged pain that they are trying, by any means, to regulate through the use of heroin, marijuana, etc.," said Mowbray, who is an assistant professor at the University of Georgia's School of Social Work. "On the other hand, these individuals could be battling a significant addiction, where pain reliever misuse is used in tandem with other drugs to get their fix and stave off withdrawal."

What's also unclear is how the majority of individuals become addicted to illicit drugs in the first place. There are several things to consider before understanding how and why a patient becomes an addict. 

"There is an increasing trend to examine addiction from a strictly biological standpoint," he said. "Persons are perhaps born with a predilection for misuse, through genetic and neurochemical traits or both."

He added: "However, I believe that multiple factors, including biological risk are most likely. It is important to remember that social determinants, including income, gender and a person's mental health status, as well as structural factors such as ease of access all contribute to rates of addiction."

"The medical community can use this study as a call to develop tailored, age appropriate interventions to reduce the misuse of prescription pain relievers," Mowbray said. 

Reference

1. Mowbray O and Quinn A. Prescription pain reliever misuse prevalence, correlates, and origin of possession throughout the life course. Addict Behav. 2015; 50: 22-27.

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