Objectives: An exploratory study was undertaken to examine how being denied prescription opioids to treat pain impacted the drug-using careers of young adults with a history of misuse of prescription drugs.
Design: Ethno-epidemiological methodology utilizing a cross-sectional design, semi-structured interviews, and qualitative/quantitative data analysis. Settings. Non-clinical participants were recruited from natural settings, such as streets, parks, beaches, and college campuses, in New York City and Los Angeles during 2008 and 2009.
Participants: One hundred fifty participants aged 16 to 25 who had misused a prescription opioid, tranquilizer, or stimulant in the past 90 days. Outcome Measures. Analyses focused on denial of opioids and associated consequences, including self-medication with prescription opioids and heroin.
Results: Thirty-four participants (22.7%) described being denied prescription opioids for the treatment of a painful condition. Current opioid misuse and current pain problems were higher in this group compared to those who had never been denied prescription opioids. Reasons for denial included being identified as a drug user by a physician, lack of health insurance, and having medication withheld by a parent or authority figure. Approximately half reported self-medicating pain with either illegally obtained prescription opioids or heroin. Self-medication often coincided with initiation of new risk behaviors and more intensive drug use.
Conclusion: Being denied prescription opioids was an important moment in the drug using careers of many study participants. Results suggest that effective pain management techniques are needed to prevent high-risk young adults with pain problems from engaging in escalated opioid misuse and risk behaviors.
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