Research reveals NYC teens who abuse prescriptions at risk for overdose

A study from New York University researchers revealed that New York City teens who abuse prescription drugs nonmedically are at a high risk of overdosing. The study authors, from New York University’s Center for Drug Use and HIV Research, investigated overdose knowledge and teens’ experiences for the first time to try and figure out how prescription drug abuse correlates to overdoses. The findings were published in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

The study included 46 participants between the ages of 18 and 32, who all lived in the city and used the drugs nonmedically in the past month. The researchers conducted a series of extensive interviews with participants to hear about overdose experiences and learn about the participants’ knowledge on using safely and overdose prevention. The study authors also asked about naloxone, a drug that can help reverse a heroin or opioid overdose.

A lack of knowledge

The researchers discovered that despite the considerable amount of overdoses the teens had, very few knew about proper overdose prevention methods or how to access naloxone. When asked about an overdose, many participants claimed that a cold shower or slapping the person could help. Many of the teens noted using an incorrect overdose scene in “Pulp Fiction” as a reference for how to reverse an overdose.

Troubled, the researchers chose to investigate local organizations that discuss prevention methods and teach about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. They realized that many of the members of these organizations were part of a completely different subpopulation than the participants. Participants made clear distinctions between heroin and prescription drug use, noting the stigma associated with heroin. The participants claimed they wanted to disassociate from “junkies,” who they felt were the only people using these organizations. They also all did not inject the drug, so the participants were off the radar of many of these prevention and awareness organizations.

Finding a solution

The researchers concluded that much more education and awareness on prescription drug use and overdose is needed for these teens in NYC and across the country. They believe more organizations need to be founded other than those already available. They hope that more resources may be able to target users that are currently flying under the radar. They also noted that many of the participants were either high school or college educated, so they believe more programs should be implemented at these institutions.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that 15 percent of high school seniors reported using prescription drugs nonmedically in 2013. The drug of choice was mainly Adderall, but 5.3 percent reported regularly using pain relievers such as Vicodin.

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