Although fentanyl is the drug most frequently implicated in overdose deaths, the association between overdose risk and attitudes and behaviors surrounding fentanyl in opioid-using communities has remained understudied. Possible subpopulation differences in fentanyl-related overdose risk remain equally unexamined. This paper addresses these gaps by exploring the association between overdose and fentanyl-related attitudes/behaviors in three subpopulations of overdose survivors.
In this cross-sectional study, we sampled 432 individuals who currently or recently used opioids from New Jersey methadone and acute residential detoxification programs. Using multinomial regression analysis, we compared overdose risk factors, including fentanyl-related attitudes/behaviors, of those who never overdosed with three subgroups of overdose survivors who experienced: 1. recent overdoses occurring after, but not before, fentanyl expansion; 2. past overdoses occurring before, but not after, fentanyl expansion; 3. persistent overdoses occurring before and after fentanyl expansion.
Forty percent of respondents had knowingly used fentanyl and 38% deliberately sought overdose-implicated drugs. Respondents with persistent overdoses represented under 10% of the sample but accounted for 44% of all lifetime overdoses (x̅ =8.03 vs. 1.71 for the full sample). This was also the only subgroup for whom PTSD (AOR=3.84; 95%CI=1.45-10.16; p=.01) and fentanyl-seeking (AOR=1.50; 95% CI=1.16-1.94; p=.01) were significant overdose risk factors. Those with recent overdoses engaged in frequent drug combining (AOR=2.28; 95% CI=1.19-6.98; p=.05), which could have led to inadvertent fentanyl use. Those with past overdoses were not at overdose risk from fentanyl-seeking or drug combining and had rates of methadone treatment comparable to rates of those with no overdoses.
Harm reduction strategies will need to address consumers’ evolving drug preferences as fentanyl continues to saturate local drug markets. Targeting comprehensive interventions, including mental health treatment, to the small group of opioid users with longstanding overdose histories may reduce the burden of overdose in opioid-using communities.

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