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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Columbia: Study Shows Hazardous Patterns of Prescription Opioid Misuse in the U.S.

Among adults 18 years and older, 31 percent used prescription opioids only as prescribed by a physician for medical purposes and 4 percent misused them. Among all 12-month prescription opioids users, 88 percent used the drugs for medical purposes only, according to a study at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons, and New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI). The findings are in the American Journal of Public Health.

For the 12 percent of misusers, almost 60 percent had misused their own prescriptions — exclusively (27 percent) or with prescribed opioids from a nonmedical source (31 percent). Most without-prescription misusers obtained their last prescription from a friend or relative. Almost all prescription-only misusers (98 percent) obtained their last prescription opioid from one doctor.

“Identifying the characteristics of prescription opioids misusers is crucial for understanding who is most at risk for the drugs’ adverse outcomes and for targeting prevention and treatment efforts,” said Dr. Denise Kandel, professor of sociomedical sciences in psychiatry at Columbia Mailman School.

Using data from the 2016–2017 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, Dr. Kandel and team compared exclusive medical prescription opioid users with three groups of misusers. They also examined nicotine use and dependence, and past-12-month alcohol and marijuana use and disorder.

Dr. Kandel found that misusers had the highest rates of heroin use, were more likely to be depressed, be treated for alcohol, have a marijuana disorder and to perceive drug use as less risky. “They also had higher rates of prescription opioid use disorder, heroin use, and benzodiazepine misuse – a very hazardous pattern of substance use.”

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