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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

People Who Use Drugs Are Finding Ways to Prevent Overdose

A new study by Drs. Don Des Jarlais and Courtney McKnight, professor and clinical assistant professor with New York University’s College of Global Public Health, was published in the International Journal of Drug Policy titled “Being ‘hooked up’ during a sharp increase in the availability of illicitly manufactured fentanyl: Adaptations of drug using practices among people who use drugs (PWUD) in New York City.”

Illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF), a category of synthetic opioids 50–100 times more potent than morphine, is increasingly being added to heroin and other drugs in the United States (US). Persons who use drugs (PWUD) are frequently unaware of the presence of fentanyl in drugs. Use of heroin and other drugs containing fentanyl has been linked to sharp increases in opioid mortality. In New York City (NYC), opioid-related mortality increased from 8.2 per 100,000 residents in 2010 to 19.9 per 100,000 residents in 2016; and, in 2016, fentanyl accounted for 44 percent of NYC overdose deaths. Little is known about how PWUD are adapting to the increase in fentanyl and overdose mortality. This study explores PWUDs’ adaptations to drug using practices due to fentanyl. In-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with 55 PWUD at three NYC syringe services programs (SSP) about perceptions of fentanyl, overdose experiences and adaptations of drug using practices.

PWUD utilized test shots, a consistent drug dealer, fentanyl test strips, naloxone, getting high with or near others and reducing drug use to protect from overdose. Consistent application of these methods was often negated by structural level factors such as stigma, poverty and homelessness. To address these, multi-level overdose prevention approaches should be implemented in order to reduce the continuing increase in opioid mortality.

Read Drs. Des Jarlais and McKnight’s paper here.