Sources of pharmaceutical opioids for non-medical use among young adults

J Psychoactive Drugs. 2014 Jul-Aug;46(3):198-207. doi: 10.1080/02791072.2014.916833.


The study uses qualitative and quantitative data to describe sources of pain pills for illicit use among young adult (18- to 23-year-old) users. Respondent-driven sampling was used to recruit 383 individuals in the Columbus, Ohio, area. The sample was almost 50% Caucasian and about 55% male. Qualitative interview participants (n = 45) were selected from the larger sample. Qualitative data suggest that pharmaceutical opioid availability was so pervasive that most individuals did not have to venture outside of their immediate social networks to find people who sold or shared pills. Participants emphasized differences between those who are actively involved in obtaining pills and those who play a more passive role. Active involvement was described as going out searching for pills and paying money to obtain them. In contrast, passive role included obtaining pills when somebody offered or shared them free of charge. Multiple logistic regression analysis indicates that a more active role in obtaining pharmaceutical opioids was related to being White, more frequent use of pharmaceutical opioids, extended-release oxycodone use, and using pharmaceutical opioids to get high, as opposed to self-treating a health problem. The study results can help inform drug use epidemiology, interventions, and policy.

Keywords: mixed methods; pharmaceutical opioid abuse; qualitiative methods; sources of diversion; young adults.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior* / ethnology
  • Age Factors
  • Analgesics, Opioid / supply & distribution*
  • Drug Trafficking* / ethnology
  • Drug Trafficking* / psychology
  • Drug Users / psychology*
  • Drug-Seeking Behavior*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Ohio / epidemiology
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / ethnology
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Prescription Drug Diversion* / ethnology
  • Prescription Drug Diversion* / psychology
  • Qualitative Research
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics, Opioid