Levels of opioid misuse may be dependent on sexual orientation

According to NYU School of Medicine, men and women identifying as lesbian, gay, or bisexual are at a higher risk of opioid misuse compared with those who identify as heterosexual.
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According to NYU School of Medicine, men and women identifying as lesbian, gay, or bisexual are at a higher risk of opioid misuse compared with those who identify as heterosexual.

The researchers believe the underlying cause of opioid misuse amongst such individuals could be their need for a coping mechanism from the stress and stigma that arises from being a minority within a largely heterosexual culture. Researchers from NYU School of Medicine, USA, estimate 5% of adults who identify as heterosexual in the U.S. have experienced opioid misuse in the past year, however this is lower than the 9% of individuals who identify as gay or lesbian, and 12% for those who identify as bisexual.

Details of the study

Researchers say the new study is the first of its kind to examine differences in sexual orientation using a nationally representative sample of adults in the U.S.

By amalgamating data from 42,802 people involved in the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) the study participants were surveyed about their sexual orientation and any misuse of opioids in the past year, as well as past-month and past-year prescription opioid use.

The misuse was categorised as using the drug without a prescription, using in larger amounts or for longer than directed, or using against the recommendation of a doctor.
Senior study author Joseph J. Palamar, PhD explains: “Our study highlights that adults of sexual minority status – particularly women identifying as bisexual – are at increased risk for opioid misuse.”

Palamar is also an associate professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU School of Medicine and a researcher in the Center for Drug Use and HIV/HCV Research at NYU College of Global Public Health, he described the opioid crisis to be “escalating nationwide” and that “it is important to focus on preventing misuse among groups at highest risk.”

Opioid misuse as a coping mechanism

The fact that a key finding was that women who identified as bisexual were twice as likely to misuse opioids and experience substance abuse when compared with individuals with other sexual orientations, suggests a serious issue which needs to be tackled.

The researchers suggest that by being a bisexual woman, individuals are not only a minority within a largely heterosexual culture, but also within the lesbian and gay community. Therefore, to address the growing problem of opioid misuse in these groups, the researchers advocate for the establishment and development of more educational programming to help prevent drug use and misuse.

Dustin T. Duncan, ScD, an associate professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU School of Medicine concludes: “Primary care providers, educators, and even parents should consider sexual orientation when assessing those at risk of opioid misuse.”

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