Young adults who start their drug abuse with prescription drugs, and later transition into using heroin or injecting drugs, continue significant use of prescription drugs, according to a study directed by Dr. Stephen E. Lankenau, an associate professor at the Drexel University School of Public Health.
The study was designed to describe current patterns of prescription drug misuse among young injection drug users (IDUs) and was published online in the June 9, 2012 edition of the Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine.
“Over the past two decades, prescription drugs—such as opioids and tranquilizers—have emerged as a primary cause of death in overdose cases, while overdose is a leading cause of death among young injection drug users (IDUs),” said Dr. Lankenau, who was the lead author of the report. “Despite these upward trends in drug use and mortality, few studies until this one have examined prescription drug misuse among young IDUs.”
According to the report, patterns of prescription drug use among young IDUs include using two or more drugs at the same time, drug substitution, and self-medication for several conditions such as untreated pain and heroin withdrawal. The study also found numerous gaps in the available healthcare and treatment options for young IDUs, including overdose prevention trainings focused on polydrug use, drug treatment programs that target opioid and tranquilizer misuse, primary care clinics to treat pain, and mental health services to address long-standing psychological problems.
Dr. Lankenau described the study as a follow-up companion piece to his previous article which found that prescription opioid drug misuse was an entry point into injection drug use and heroin use by IDUs.
The researchers in the current study aimed to address unanswered questions regarding patterns of prescription drug misuse among young IDUs specifically regarding motivation, strategies, risks, and how misuse fit into the overall health and well-being of young IDUs.
The researchers analyzed 50 study participants, who were mainly homeless and transient white males in their early 20s. The participants were recruited in 2008 and 2009 in Los Angeles and New York.
Study authors acknowledge the challenge treatment providers face in keeping transient young IDUs enrolled in programs. Future studies should enroll a long-term group of transient young IDUs to examine the possibilities of IDUs developing consistent relationships with drug treatment providers, needle exchanges, and overdose prevention programs. “Increasing [monetary] incentives and interviewers developing good rapport with IDUs are two ways we have found to retain them,” Dr. Lankenau said.
The report was co-authored by Dr. Lankenau and Karol Silva, MPH (Drexel University School of Public Health); Dr. Michelle Teti (University of Missouri School of Health Professions); Jennifer Jackson Bloom and Meghan Treese (Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Division of Research on Children, Youth and Families); and Alex Harocopos (National Development and Research Institutes, Inc.).