Home > Shifting pathways of stimulant use among individuals with opioid use disorder: a retrospective analysis of the last thirty years.

Ellis, Matthew S and Kasper, Zachary A and Scroggins, Stephen (2021) Shifting pathways of stimulant use among individuals with opioid use disorder: a retrospective analysis of the last thirty years. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 12, p. 786056. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2021.786056.

External website: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt...

Stimulant use among individuals with opioid use disorder has recently increased, driven by changes in drug distribution channels. However, our understanding of polysubstance use is often limited by a need to provide targeted treatment to a primary drug of addiction. Yet there is a crucial need to better understand pathways to addiction, and how the use of multiple substances may differ between populations, as well as time periods. Using a national opioid surveillance system, we analyzed survey data from new entrants to 124 opioid use disorder treatment centers from 2017 to 2020. Age of first use was collected for prescription opioids, illicit opioids, prescription stimulants, crack/cocaine, and methamphetamines. Year of initial use of an opioid or stimulant was calculated and grouped by 5 year blocs, inclusive of initial use starting from 1991 and ending in 2020 ( = 6,048). Lifetime exposure to stimulants was 82.5% among individuals with opioid use disorder. Mean age of initiation increased for all drugs in 2016-2020, in particular prescription opioids (22.3 to 31.8).

Stimulants were initiating drugs for a substantial proportion of individuals with opioid use throughout the analyzed time period. Those initiating opioid/stimulant use from 1991 to 1995 had a mean average of 6.8 years between first and second drug exposure, which steadily decreased to 1.5 years between exposures in 2016-2020. Sankey plots depict significantly more drug transitions in those initiating use from 1991 to 2000 (65.1% had at least two drug transitions) compared to 2010-2020 (16.0%). Opioid-stimulant use increased over time among racial/ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, and those with an educational attainment of high school or less. These data highlight not only the substantial prevalence of stimulant use among individuals who develop opioid use disorder, but also the variability through which pathways of use occur. Prevention and intervention efforts need to take into account increasing ages of initial drug exposures, demographic shifts in stimulant-using populations, and more rapid drug transitions between opioid and stimulants. But at a broader level, prevention, harm reduction ideology, and addiction medicine needs to take into account the ubiquity of polysubstance use among individuals with substance use disorders.

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