This mixed-methods study compared drug use histories between individuals who had a reported non-fatal overdose to individuals who did not and described the overdose risk-management strategies as they were experienced by a sample of people who use drugs (PWUD). Shifts from non-medical prescription opioid use (NMPOU) to the use of heroin and synthetic opioids have been implicated in national increases in overdose incidences in the United States. However, relatively limited data exists regarding the narrative experiences of the evolving overdose risk management strategies among a nationwide sample of PWUD.
Data recruitment was conducted via Amazon’s mTurk crowdsourcing technology and was collected through semi-structured interviews that occurred in 2019. Participants (N = 60) with a history of NMPOU with transition to heroin or fentanyl use were recruited.
Participants reporting a previous non-fatal overdose were more likely to report a history of injection drug use, a history of heroin injection, greater overdose risk knowledge, and current medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD) use. Qualitative analysis revealed that participants attempted to mitigate overdose risk in primarily three ways: 1) self-regulation; 2) harm reduction; and 3) passive approach. Self-regulatory measures included administering small or incremental dosing, being mindful of personal tolerance limits, and avoiding the initiation of injection drug use. Harm reduction measures used to protect from overdose included carrying Narcan and relying on trusted drug-suppliers as references to drug purity. A passive approach indicated that participants relied on “luck” or divine support systems where religiosity and faith were endorsed as factors that mitigated personal overdose risk.
Participants reported successful overdose mitigation via self-regulation, which may suggest that PWUDs were capable at managing their drug use amid the overdose crisis. The importance of the drug-supplier relationship was critical to many in reducing their overdose risk as formal harm reduction services (e.g., safe injection sites) remain inaccessible in the U.S. Implications for drug policy and harm reduction interventions are discussed.

Copyright © 2020. Published by Elsevier B.V.