A recent study published in the International Journal of Drug Policy indicates that there is a strong need for more education among adults who are abusing painkillers and/or heroin.
The abuse of prescription painkillers has reached epidemic proportions in America. Close to half of the nation’s 38,329 drug overdose deaths in 2010 involved painkillers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These narcotics now kill more adults than heroin and cocaine combined. Furthermore, the number of accidental opioid-involved overdose deaths in 2011 was nearly triple the number of deaths in 2000, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The study explored the use of non-medical prescription opioid use in adults ages 18-32. Surveys assessed an individual’s knowledge on what might induce an overdose experience as well as the likelihood of drug overdose. Surveys were in-depth and semi-structured interviews and also explored their knowledge of opioid safety practices and overdose prevention services available to them. The researchers also measured participants’ knowledge of naloxone, a specific opioid receptor antagonist used to reverse an opioid overdose.
The study revealed that most participants were not aware of overdose dangers and how to respond to a potential overdose. Many participants were not aware of the use of naloxone as a means for prevention nor how to access the preventative drug. Furthermore, many participants were not aware of any sober help opportunities in their neighborhood. These might include harm reduction organizations and syringe exchange programs (SEPs).
The research study specifically interviewed the high risk group of young adults. The surveys further explored their knowledge of what to do when in the presence of a friend who is overdosing. Most responded with primitive suggestions such as slapping someone or placing them in a cold shower as a means to revive an individual who is overdosing on opioids. It was clear that television shows and movies were a large influence on this population who frequently referred to the movie Pulp Fiction, which includes an overdose reversal scene, one that is not realistic.
Painkillers are opioids which come in many forms, including hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine, which are used to relieve pain. Experiences like surgery or injury will often require the use of painkillers. Research has revealed that when opioids are taken according to the precise way that they have been prescribed, they are safe. They will relieve pain and rarely cause an addiction, when a patient takes them according to a doctor’s direction.
Yet, when these drugs are not taken according to direction, when they are abused in any way, that is when they become addictive. Sadly, addictions to opioids are easy to develop, especially alongside the regular use of tobacco, alcohol, and/or marijuana. Although there are strict regulations on powerful drugs in order to prevent harm, abuse, and addiction, developing a dependency on these drugs clearly continue to happen regardless. Yet, when an addiction does develop, finding sober help can be incredibly difficult for many addicted individuals.
The research study also explored other sober help sources which might provide education on overdose and the prevention of overdose. There were organizations that were available in the communities in which the survey was held but they failed to educate for one reason or another. For instance, study participants were of a different subpopulation from those traditionally served by these organizations.
Interestingly, many of the participants drew a distinction between the use of painkillers and the use of heroin. Heroin use had a stigma associated with it and tended to keep users from getting sober help if they needed it.
It’s clear that in order to serve this population and provide them with the sober help they need, further educational resources on how to prevent overdose are needed. Additionally, the stigma for the use of heroin needs to be further studied in order to best move past the stigma and provide individuals with the sober help they need to survive.
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