Visible Communities of People who use Opiates

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Visible Communities of People Who Use Opiates

People who use opiates have regular contact with doctors, the medical system and social media. While dependents on opioids may hold down regular interactions with family, friends and a job/school, they may eventually wind up needing medical assistance or in the criminal justice system. Below are several insights around who and what regular opioid users may interact with in the UK.

Services

  • There are only two free centers in the UK dedicated to help people who are dependent on opioids. There is no dedicated NHS treatment center. As such, many people dependent on opioids merely successfully obtain legal prescriptions from their GP.
  • One article found many users who cannot get the opioids they need (which could happen in the UK due to lack of treatment or counseling centers) turn to heroin, as it is cheaper and more easily obtained. Some of these users then attempt to come off of heroin, often through methadone programs.
  • As opioid dependents often move to obtaining their drugs through illegal means, they may have interaction with police, jail or the courts. Often, they are order to attend structured rehab programs and/or Narcotics Anonymous.
  • Unfortunately, people who use drugs (PWUD) can often relapse into stronger substances or take accidental overdoses. This means they tend to have encounters with paramedics and local hospitals.

Interaction

  • Many PWUD in the UK maintain regular lives for a time (or even permanently). They go to school or work and interact with family and friends as normal. This is likely more opioid users who are not open or visible, rather than those who are.
  • However, as discussed above, eventually PWUD grow unhealthy or accidentally overdose, meaning they wind up in hospital. Some can prolong their use of opioids through legitimate means such as needing surgery or procedures justifying legitimate prescriptions.

Social Media

  • According to one meta-study, people who use opiates use Twitter the most often, then Reddit and Instagram. This is among people who self-report their dependency on prescription medications within social media or in spheres not associated with their medical practitioners.
  • The most common references on Twitter are to morphine (25%), oxycodone (20%), codone (20%) and opioid-acetaminophen (22%). Overdoses were discussed in only 6.8% of the messages analyzed.
  • The sub-Reddit /r/opiates is generally for people using or with questions about using opiates. It has over 93,000 members but is kept strictly moderated for journalists, begging or sourcing. A study analyzing the forum found around 44% of posts were discussing using opiates and only 15.4% focused on harm reduction. As the forum contains information and guidance on dosing add medical care, it can be assumed it is a well-used resource for those who regularly use opiates.
  • A quick search of the Reddit forum revealed many users (and posts) are relevant to the UK.

YouTube

  • No dedicated channels or YouTubers specific to UK openly discussing opioid use could be found.

Research Strategy

We attempt to find key channels or influencers on YouTube that might be relevant to an open opioid user in the UK, but our search came up empty. We used some keywords in academic studies of social media (such as fentanyl, Oxycontin, oxy, codeine, co-codamol, vikes, perks and more), but all results were generally news reports about opioid use. We did find a couple US-based people, so it's possible that UK users would watch these channels if they were not worried about geographical connotations. Goblin has several videos on drug use and Cg Kid has many videos discussing his use of drugs (though his channel is focused on overcoming dependence).

Overall, there was only limited data giving insights into the day in the life of an open opioid user in the UK. While dependence on opioids in the UK has been making the news, it is generally acknowledged that these people are mostly hidden, obtaining their drugs through legal prescriptions. Furthermore, as there are very few dedicated services to the issue, this means PWUD (opioids, specifically) are again not very visible nor heavily researched to find their daily habits. We were able to pull some insights from more general looks at opioid users, such as social media and who they might interact with.
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