Prescription drug abusers often do not see overdoses coming, and are usually unprepared for the consequences of their actions, according to a new study. Many people addicted to the drugs are also unaware of what can be done to counteract the effects of excess painkillers.

Prescription opioids [PO] such as Oxycontin and Vicodin are becoming popular among recreational users. The drugs can slow bodily functions, causing users to stop breathing in extreme cases. A percentage of these overdoses are fatal.

Naloxone is one of several prescription drugs available to treat overdoses from opiates, but a new study found most users were unaware that such options are available.

"We found that despite significant overdose experiences, nonmedical PO users were uninformed about overdose awareness, avoidance, and response strategies, especially the use of naloxone. Prevention efforts should provide education about overdose prevention and access to naloxone to young PO misusers," Pedro Mateu-Gelabert from the Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR) of New York University and principal investigator on the study, said.

Researchers found that many people who used prescription opiates stated they would depend on popular folk cures, such as slapping a victim in the face, to revive them during an overdose. These methods are highly ineffective, according to medical experts. Many of the subjects also referenced a highly-fictionalized of overdose revival seen in the film "Pulp Fiction" as an example of successful treatment.

The study questioned 46 residents of New York City, between the ages of 18 and 32, who had used opiate-based pharmaceutical drugs on a non-medicinal basis in the previous 30 days.

Treatment centers for people suffering from opioid dependence often focus on heroin users, who often inject the drug. Users of PO's tend to be wealthier, younger, and more often Caucasian, than people who ingest heroin, according to the researchers. The study found that many people who abuse prescription opioids are often stigmatized away from such treatment centers by the association. This not only prevents addicts from receiving the help they need, but leads the focus of such centers away from users of the prescription drugs.  

"Given that every participant in the study had attended at least some high school, with half having attended at least some college, we believe the development of high school and college education programs that offer harm reduction training and distribute naloxone could contribute to overdose prevention efforts," Mateu-Gelabert told the press.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates more than five million Americans currently misuse prescription pain medicine.

Study of PO misusers and their knowledge of overdose treatments and procedures was detailed in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

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