The opioid epidemic continues to rage across the U.S., with countless consumers falling victim to these potentially dangerous painkillers every day. While you might think that prescriptions from doctors are mostly to blame, a team of researchers found that families and friends also play a large role in how addiction to these substances begin.
Researchers from Penn State found that many consumers who eventually take harder drugs like heroin begin their addiction journey with recreational use of opioid medications.
“We found that most people initiated [later drug use] through a pattern of recreational use because of people around them,” said Ashton Verdery, an assistant professor at Penn State. “They got [opioids] from either siblings, friends or romantic partners."
Doctors not solely responsible
As part of their study, the researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 30 opioid users to see how their addiction to painkillers began. While some admitted that they eventually began “doctor shopping” in order to fill out prescriptions, over half said they started using because friends or family members supplied them with pills.
Verdery points out that current legislation focuses largely on regulating how medical professionals prescribe opioids as a means of cutting down on abuse cases. While this step is needed, he says that informing consumers about the dangers of opioids is also necessary.
“It's not just that people were prescribed painkillers from a doctor for a legitimate reason and, if we just crack down on the doctors who are prescribing in these borderline cases we can reduce the epidemic," he said. "Our results really don't speak to that framework. They speak more to the need of educating people how dangerous these pills are and warning them about getting the pills from friends and family, because that's the way a lot of people are getting addicted."
The full study has been published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases.