In a nationwide study, researchers from the UGA School of Social Work found that individuals of any age who used illicit drugs within the past year had a higher likelihood of misusing prescription pain relievers as well. A study just released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that heroin use was highest among those who abused cocaine or opioid pain relievers within the past year, reinforced the UGA research.
The findings, published in the journal Addictive Behaviors, may help health care providers and others curb painkiller misuse.
“Male or female, black or white, rich or poor, the singular thing we found was that if they were an illicit drug user, they also had many, many times higher odds of misusing prescription pain relievers,” said Orion Mowbray, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work and the UGA study’s lead author.
The UGA researchers also determined that adults age 50 and older were more likely to acquire pain relievers through more than one doctor, whereas younger individuals were more likely to acquire them from friends, relatives or drug dealers.
The investigation was based on more than 13,000 responses to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The annual survey collects data on the use of tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs, prescription drugs and mental health problems among individuals 12 and older.
Prescription pain relievers represent the majority of all prescription drugs that are misappropriated in the U.S., and misuse has risen dramatically in recent years. The most over-used pain relievers are opioids.
Emergency room treatments for opioid misuse increased 183 percent from 2004 to 2011, according to a 2013 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a unit of the Department of Health and Human Services.
The reason for the increase is not clear, but the report offers possible solutions to address the problem.
“If we know how people come to possess the pain relievers they misuse, we can design better ways to lower that likelihood,” Mowbray said. “This study gives us the knowledge we need to substantially reduce the opportunities for misuse.”