Majority of Opioid Painkiller Abusers Do Not Receive Medical Treatment

Majority of Opioid Painkiller Abusers Do Not Receive Medical Treatment

The United States is in the middle of a prescription drug epidemic that stems mostly from opiate pain killers. But who exactly are the people abusing these drugs? Is there a pattern of abuse?

Researchers from the Warren Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University and Rhode Island Hospital have attempted to answer these questions. They studied more than 26,300 adults who reported using prescription opioids within the past month of a survey conducted November 2005 through December 2009. The adults in this study were ages 18 to 70, whose drug use was being tracked through a national monitoring system called the National Addictions Vigilance Intervention and Prevention Program.

The research team found that many abused opiates in conjunction with other prescription and/or illicit drugs, and that many of these adults were suffering from psychiatric conditions along with their substance abuse. Only 19% were using the drugs as prescribed.

Dr. Traci Green and her colleagues classified the adults using opiate drugs into four groups: those who use them as prescribed (19%); those who had prescriptions but were misusing the drugs (27%); medically healthy abusers (36%); and illicit users (18%). Over 80% were determined to be at risk for death by overdose, and an additional 18% were at risk for blood-borne infections such as HIV.

The research team also studied these adults in terms of age, race, ethnicity, concurrent drug use, onset and duration of drug abuse, route of administration, and comorbid psychiatric and medical problems. They reported that patient education and expanding prescription monitoring programs would have little effect in stopping or helping opioid abusers, many of whom do not receive regular care from the medical profession. Many of the opioid abusers have psychiatric and medical problems that are not being addressed in formal treatment programs.

“Our results add to a growing body of research indicating that prescription opiate products are being abused and misused in ways that call for more nuanced and public health-oriented post-marketing surveillance and risk management responses that have been proposed heretofore,” said Dr. Green, lead author of the study.

The study appears in the journal PLoS ONE.

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