Attempts to reduce opioid overdoses have been complicated by the dramatic rise in fentanyl use. While market forces contributing to fentanyl proliferation in the illicit drug supply have increased inadvertent exposure to the drug, rising fentanyl use may also be driven by growing consumer demand. Interventions to reduce the spread of fentanyl must be based on an understanding of the motivations underlying its use.
Data for this cross-sectional study were derived from a computerized self-administered survey completed by a convenience sample of 432 people who use illicit opioids (PWUO) recruited from methadone and detoxification programs in NJ. The anonymous survey was based on a prior qualitative study of attitudes and behaviors surrounding opioid use. Multivariate analysis identified correlates of intentional fentanyl use in the full sample and among sub-populations of white and non-white PWUO.
In the full sample, intentional fentanyl use was associated with white race/ethnicity, younger age, polydrug use, and a preference for the drug effects of fentanyl, which more than tripled the probability of intentional use (AOR=3.02; 95% CI=1.86-4.89; p=.000). Among whites, a preference for the fentanyl drug effects was also the strongest predictor of intentional use (AOR=5.34; 95% CI=2.78-10.28; p=.000). Among non-whites, however, exposure, not preference, was the primary driver of use, with intentional use more than doubling (AOR=2.48; 95% CI=1.04-5.91; p<.05) among those living in high fentanyl dispersion counties.
The motivations underlying fentanyl use are multifactorial and vary across populations of PWUO, indicating a need for targeted interventions to counter the increasing spread and adverse consequences of fentanyl use. In order to counteract the increasing spread and adverse consequences of fentanyl use, these findings indicate a need for harm-reduction interventions, like drug testing or supervised injection sites, that address the differing motivations for fentanyl use among PWUO.

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