Seeking Prescription Opioids from Physicians for Nonmedical Use Among People Who Inject Drugs in a Canadian Setting

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Background and Objectives:

Despite the high prevalence of prescription opioid (PO) misuse, little is known about the phenomenon of seeking POs for nonmedical use among high-risk populations, such as people who inject drugs (PWID). We therefore sought to examine the prevalence and correlates of seeking POs from a physician for nonmedical use among PWID in Vancouver, Canada.


Cross-sectional data from two open prospective cohort studies of PWID in Vancouver were collected between June 2013 and May 2014 (n = 1252). Multivariable logistic regression was used to identify factors associated with seeking POs from physicians for nonmedical use.


Of 1252 participants, 458 individuals (36.6%) reported ever trying to get a PO prescription from a physician for nonmedical use and, of these, 343 (74.9%, comprising 27.4% of the total sample) reported ever being successful. Variables independently and positively associated with PO-seeking behavior included older age (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 1.02), Caucasian ethnicity (AOR = 1.38), having ever overdosed (AOR = 1.32), having ever participated in methadone maintenance therapy (AOR = 1.90), having ever dealt drugs (AOR = 1.65), and having ever been refused a prescription for pain medication (AOR = 2.02) (all p < .05).

Discussion and Conclusions:

We observed that PO-seeking behavior was common among this sample of PWID and associated with several markers of higher intensity drug use.

Scientific Significance:

Our findings highlight the need to identify evidence-based public health and clinical strategies to mitigate PO misuse among PWID without compromising care for PWID with legitimate medical concerns. (Am J Addict 2016;25:275–282)

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