Prevalence and correlates of fentanyl-contaminated heroin exposure among young adults who use prescription opioids non-medically

Addict Behav. 2017 May;68:35-38. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2017.01.014. Epub 2017 Jan 6.


Background: The rate of overdose deaths caused by fentanyl-contaminated heroin (FCH) use is increasing rapidly in the United States. We examined risk factors for exposure to FCH and experiences with FCH use among young adult non-medical prescription opioids (NMPO) users.

Methods: We analyzed data from the Rhode Island Young Adult Prescription Drug Study (RAPiDS), which enrolled young adults aged 18 to 29 reporting prior 30day NMPO use between January 2015 and February 2016. Participants completed questionnaires ascertaining drug use patterns and risk behaviors, including FCH exposure. Logistic regression was used to assess factors associated with known or suspected FCH exposure.

Results: Of 199 participants, the median age was 25 (IQR: 22, 27), 130 (65.3%) were male, and 122 (61.3%) were of White, non-Hispanic race/ethnicity. In total, 22 (11%) reported known or suspected FCH exposure in the prior six months. Several drug use patterns and risk behaviors were associated with FCH exposure, including: regular heroin and cocaine use; diverted pharmaceutical fentanyl use in the prior six months; NMPO use to avoid withdrawal symptoms; longer duration of NMPO use; regular injection drug use; and prior overdose (all p<0.001). Among participants who reported FCH exposure, 59% were unaware that their heroin was contaminated with fentanyl prior to last use, 59% reported that FCH provides a better high, and all recognized that fentanyl increases overdose risk.

Conclusions: Exposure to fentanyl-contaminated heroin is an emerging trend among young adult NMPO users in Rhode Island. Overdose prevention programs addressing FCH use are urgently needed.

Keywords: Fentanyl; Heroin; Non-medical prescription opioid use; Young adults.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid*
  • Female
  • Fentanyl*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Heroin*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prescription Drug Misuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prevalence
  • Rhode Island / epidemiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Risk-Taking
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Heroin
  • Fentanyl