Validation of a behavioral economic purchase task for assessing drug abuse liability

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Behavioral economic purchase tasks quantify drug demand (i.e. reinforcing value of a drug) and have been used extensively to assess the value of various drugs among current users. However, purchase tasks have been rarely used with unfamiliar drugs to address a compound's abuse liability, and the current study sought to validate the paradigm in this capacity. Using a double-blind placebo-controlled within-subjects drug challenge design, the study evaluated differential drug demand on an experimental drug purchase task for a 20 mg dose of oral D-amphetamine (versus placebo), a prototypic psychostimulant, in 98 stimulant-naïve participants. Compared with placebo, amphetamine significantly increased intensity, breakpoint and Omax, and significantly decreased elasticity. Mechanistic analyses revealed that Omax and breakpoint mediated the relationship between subjective drug effects and ‘willingness to take again’, a putative indicator of liability via motivation for future drug-seeking behavior. These findings validate the purchase task paradigm for quantifying the reinforcing value and, in turn, abuse liability of unfamiliar compounds, providing a foundation for a variety of future applications.

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