A comparison of rural and urban nonmedical prescription opioid users' lifetime and recent drug use

Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2012 May;38(3):220-7. doi: 10.3109/00952990.2011.643971. Epub 2012 Jan 3.


Background: Nonmedical prescription opioid use has emerged as a major public health concern. The growing burden of nonmedical prescription opioid use in America may have unique manifestations and consequences in rural areas, which to a large extent have yet to be explored.

Objectives: To describe rural-urban differences among drug users in recent and lifetime use and age of onset of use for alcohol, heroin, OxyContin(®), oxycodone, hydrocodone, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, cocaine, crack, methamphetamine, amphetamine, marijuana, hallucinogens, and inhalants.

Methods: A purposive sample of 212 prescription drug users was recruited from a rural Appalachian county (n = 101) and a major metropolitan area (n = 111) in Kentucky. Consenting participants were given an interviewer-administered questionnaire examining sociodemographics, psychiatric characteristics, and self-reported drug use.

Results: Rural drug users had significantly earlier ages of onset for use of oxycodone, hydrocodone, benzodiazepines, cocaine, and crack. In age-, gender-, and race-adjusted logistic regression analyses, rural drug users had significantly higher odds of lifetime and recent use of methadone, OxyContin(®), and oxycodone. Rural drug users also had significantly higher odds of lifetime cocaine and crack use. However, urban participants as expected had significantly higher odds of recent crack use.

Conclusions: The findings demonstrate that, in this sample, nonmedical prescription opioid use is dissimilar among rural and urban drug users. Additional research is needed to better understand the individual, social, and structural level factors contributing to the burden of nonmedical opioid use, particularly in rural populations, with the aim of developing tailored substance abuse treatment and prevention.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age of Onset
  • Appalachian Region / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kentucky / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Prescription Drugs / administration & dosage*
  • Rural Population / statistics & numerical data*
  • Self Medication / statistics & numerical data*
  • Urban Population / statistics & numerical data*


  • Prescription Drugs