Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms Can Mean Riskier Behaviors for Needle Drug Users: Study
The results of a new study suggest that experiencing opioid withdrawal symptoms increases the likelihood that needle drug users will engage in risky behaviors, such as sharing needles. The researchers also found that people who are having withdrawal symptoms are also more likely to experience an overdose (non-fatal).
Researchers interviewed more than 800 people who were injection drug users for the study. The subjects lived in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
- The vast majority of the participants (85%) stated they had experienced at least one withdrawal episode within the past six months.
- Over one-third of the participants said they experienced withdrawal symptoms, such as abdominal cramps, severe pain, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, anxiety, and agitation) at least weekly.
- Most of the participants reported their withdrawal symptoms were either “very” or “extremely” painful.
The researchers found that any opioid withdrawal symptoms the participants reported were associated with sharing needles and non-fatal overdoses. The participants who experienced withdrawal symptoms weekly (or more often than each week) were more likely to share needles. They were also at the highest risk for an overdose.
Extreme Pain During Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms a Risk Factor for Overdose
Participants who reported experiencing extreme pain during withdrawal were at a higher risk of overdose. The severity of their pain was not linked to needle sharing, according to the researchers’ report. It appeared in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence (March 18).
Lead author Ricky Bluthenthal, associate dean for social justice at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, explained that the possibility of going into withdrawal is one of the main health challenges for people using opioids. He said that healthcare professionals to intervene on this issue. He went on to say that if it can be dealt with effectively, then this population’s health could likely be improved.
Bluthenthal mentioned that opioid withdrawal is a public health issue that is not treated often. He stated that knowing the majority of regular opioid users are going to experience withdrawal symptoms at some time and that there are medications available to treat them should mean these drugs are offered to those who need them.
The researchers recommended that buprenorphine, a drug used to treat clients for opioid withdrawal, be offered to people who are at risk. In the US, 130 people die every day (on average) from opioid overdose (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
The agency says that needle sharing makes the risk of HIV and hepatitis infections increase. These activities can also lead to other serious health issues.