Pain medication misuse pathway to heroin

July 22, 2011 at 7:40 PM
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PHILADELPHIA, July 22 (UPI) -- Prescription painkillers may be an important gateway to the use of injected illegal drugs such as heroin, U.S. researchers suggest.

Principal investigator Dr. Stephen Lankenau, an associate professor at Drexel University's School of Public Health, says young injection drug users' initiation into the misuse of opioid drugs were linked to a family history of drug misuse and having received prescriptions for opioid drugs in the past.

In numerous cases, the desire to experiment with a prescription opioid drug -- such as codeine and oxycodone -- combined with financial incentives or pressures from friends to sell available quantities, resulted in escalated patterns of opioid misuse.

"Participants were commonly raised in household where misuse of prescription drugs, illegal drugs, or alcohol, was normalized," Lankenau says in a statement. "Access to prescription medications -- either from a participant's own source, a family member, or a friend -- was a key feature of initiation into prescription drug misuse."

Opioid misuse is an important public health concern due to the increasing association of opioids with drug dependence and fatal overdose, and much research has focused on the factors affecting how and when people initially misuse opioids, Lankenau says.

The findings are published in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

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