Dental Tribune America

Friends and family play role in opioid abuse, reveals study

STATE COLLEGE, Pa., U.S.: The need for dentists to better understand the opioid epidemic that is currently sweeping through America is becoming increasingly important. In a recent study, researchers have reported that nonmedical opioid users were more likely to say they began abusing opioids after friends and family members offered them the drugs.

The researchers initially recruited 125 participants to complete a survey that sought information on participants’ demographics, substance use, social networks and risk factors. A total of 30 survey participants then accepted an invitation to take part in semistructured in-depth interviews that lasted about an hour. From those interviews, the researchers established that about 56 percent began by using the painkillers recreationally.

Dr. Ashton Verdery, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Demography and Social Data Analytics at the Pennsylvania State University, and an affiliate of the university’s Institute for CyberScience, said: “What emerged from our study—and really emerged because we decided to do these qualitative interviews in addition to a survey component—was a pretty different narrative than the national one. We found that most people initiated through a pattern of recreational use because of people around them. They got them from either siblings, friends or romantic partners.”

The narrative that Verdery was referring to is one in which heroin abuse occurred after people were prescribed opioid pills by their doctors and then became addicted to them. “It’s not just that people were prescribed painkillers from a doctor for a legitimate reason and, if we just crack down on the doctors who are prescribing in these borderline cases, we can reduce the epidemic,” he said.

Speaking about the results of the study, Verdery said that they speak more to the need to educate people on how dangerous opioids are and warn them against getting the pills from friends and family. “We think that understanding this mechanism as a potential pathway is worth further consideration,” noted Verdery.

The study, titled “Opioid misuse initiation: Implications for intervention,” was published online on May 14, 2019, in the Journal of Addictive Diseases, ahead of inclusion in an issue.

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