The first study specifically looking at the relationship between opioid addiction and gun involvement, led by a Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researcher, has found that opioid-dependent individuals are more likely than alcohol-dependent individuals to carry guns, commit or be victims of gun violence, and be present where shots are fired.
The study, published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, found that more than half of opioid users reported having been present when shots were fired, and about one-third of opioid users owned a gun, carried a gun, or had been shot at. Opioid-dependent individuals were about 12 times more likely to carry a gun for protection than alcohol-dependent individuals, seven times more likely to have been shot at, and six times more likely to have had a gun-related arrest.
The researchers surveyed 386 people seeking inpatient opioid detoxification and 51 people seeking alcohol withdrawal management in Fall River, Massachusetts.
They found that the rate of gun possession among their respondents was more than twice the rate of Massachusetts residents generally. Nearly one-third of opioid-dependent respondents had carried a gun for protection and been shot at, and about half had been threatened with a gun or had been present when shots were fired. Of those who didn’t own a gun, 55 percent said they could get a gun quickly if they so desired. The researchers also found being male, being a person of color, having experienced homelessness, and having been incarcerated were all significantly associated with more involvement with guns, while higher self-control scores were associated with a significant decrease in gun involvement.
“Opioid users lead gun-involved lives,” says lead author Dr. Michael Stein, professor and chair of health law, policy & management at BUSPH, noting the study took place in the state with the lowest gun ownership in America. “Opioid users are not only at risk of dying from overdose and infection, but also from gun violence.”