Teenage Nonmedical Prescription Opiate Use Spikes Overdose Risk

Teens using nonmedical prescription opioids have an increased likelihood of overdosing due to limited knowledge involving adverse effects and how to prevent them.

Teens using nonmedical prescription opioids (POs) have an increased likelihood of overdosing due to limited knowledge involving adverse effects and how to prevent them, according to a study published in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

The amount of opioid-linked overdoses in New York City in 2011 have tripled in comparison to 2000, and researchers at New York University (NYU) claimed opioid use has steadily rose among teens and young adults, as well. Furthermore, heroin use has risen due to a notable amount of nonmedical PO users transitioning to the drug.

For their study, a team of researchers at the NYU’s Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR) and the National Development Research Institutes (NDRI) conducted interviews for 46 New York City young adults (ages 18 to 32) who admitted PO use within the last 30 days. The participants were questioned about overdose experiences, knowledge of opioid safety measures, and appropriate response methods.

When dealing with an overdose, subjects claimed to use methods such as slapping or putting the individual in a shower, which are virtually ineffective at reviving them. Furthermore, several participants cited the film Pulp Fiction as an adequate recourse to reverse an overdose.

“We found that despite significant overdose experiences, nonmedical PO users were uninformed about overdose awareness, avoidance, and response strategies, especially the use of naloxone,” the study’s author Pedro Mateu-Gelabert, PhD, a principal investigator with the CDUHR and NDRI, said in a statement.

Additionally, researchers found that patients did not utilize available harm reduction organizations and syringe exchange programs because they represented a different demographic than the individuals who typically seek their services. The researchers also noted many of the PO users in the study were not heroin users at the time of interview.

“Many participants drew clear distinctions between nonmedical PO use and heroin use, and even those who transitioned to heroin tended to maintain identity-based distinctions between themselves and those they perceived as ‘junkies,’” David Frank, a co-investigator for the study explained. “Their desire to uphold this distinction affected their willingness to utilize such services, which are often stigmatized.”

Since all the participants completed high school, Mateu-Gelabert suggested developing educational resources in high schools and colleges that cover harm reduction and provide naloxone to prevent overdoses.

“There is a pressing need to develop innovative outreach strategies and overdose prevention programs to better reach and serve young PO users and their network contacts,” the authors wrote.