The switch from one substance-of-abuse to another: Illicit drug substitution behaviors in a sample of high-risk drug users

Barak Shapira*, Paola Rosca, Ronny Berkovitz, Igor Gorjaltsan, Yehuda Neumark

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background. Substitution can be defined as the consciously motivated choice to use one drug, either licit or illicit, instead of another, due to perceptions of cost, availability, safety, legality, substance characteristics, and substance attributions. Substitution represents a potential risk to drug users, mainly when substitutes are of higher potency and toxicity. This study offers a basic conceptualization of illicit substitution behavior and describes substitution patterns among users of two highly prevalent drugs of abuse—heroin and cannabis. Methods. Here, 592 high-risk drug users undergoing pharmacological and psychosocial treatment were interviewed. Patients were asked questions about current drug use, lifetime substitution, and substitution patterns. Descriptive statistics, chi-square tests of independence, and multinomial logistic regressions were used to identify and test correlates of substitution patterns for heroin and cannabis. Results. Of the 592 drug users interviewed, 448 subjects (75.7%) reported having substituted their preferred drug for another illicit substance. Interviews yielded a total of 275 substitution events reported by users of cannabis, and 351 substitution events reported by users of heroin. The most frequently reported substitution substances for responders who preferred heroin were illicit non-prescribed ‘‘street’’ methadone (35.9%), followed by oral and transdermal prescription opioids (17.7%). For responders who preferred cannabis, substitution for synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists (33.5%) followed by alcohol (16.0%) were the most commonly reported. Age at onset–of–use (p < 0.005), population group (p = 0.008), and attending treatment for the first time (p = 0.026) were significantly associated with reported lifetime substitution. Past-year use of stimulants, heroin, hallucinogens, methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), and novel psychoactive substances were—at the 95% confidence level—also significantly associated with reported lifetime substitution. In multivariate analysis, the odds for methadone substitution among heroin users were significantly affected by age at onset-of-use, type of treatment center, and education. Odds for substitution for synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists among cannabis users were significantly affected by age, population group, type of treatment center, and education. Conclusion. Self-substitution behavior should be considered by clinicians and policymakers as a common practice among most drugusers. Substitution for street methadone provides evidence for the ongoing diversion of this substance from Opioid Maintenance Treatment Centers, while the prominence of substitution of synthetic cannabinoids among dual-diagnosis patients should be regarded as an ongoing risk to patients that needs to be addressed by clinicians. Analysis of additional substitution patterns should provide further valuable insights into the behavior of drugusers.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere9461
JournalPeerJ
Volume2020
Issue number7
DOIs
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright 2020 Shapira et al.

Keywords

  • Cannabis
  • Heroin
  • Israel
  • Methadone
  • Substitution
  • Synthetic cannabinoids

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'The switch from one substance-of-abuse to another: Illicit drug substitution behaviors in a sample of high-risk drug users'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this