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Associations between prescription and illicit stimulant and opioid use in the United States, 2015-2020.

INTRODUCTION: Overdose deaths involving opioids and stimulants continue to reach unprecedented levels in the United States. Although significant attention has been paid to the relationship between prescription and illicit opioid use, little work has focused on the association between prescription and illicit stimulant use. Thus, this study explores characteristics of those who use or misuse prescription stimulants and/or opioids and associations with use of cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin.

METHODS: We used 2015-2020 data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Using adjusted multivariable logistic regression, we estimated the associations between past year prescription stimulant or prescription opioid prescribed use and misuse; various demographic characteristics; and past-year cocaine, methamphetamine, or heroin use.

RESULTS: From 2015 to 2020, 4.9 and 9.8 million US adults annually reported misusing prescription stimulants and opioids, respectively. Individuals who misused prescription stimulants were more likely to be ages 18-25 (45.8 %; 95 % CI: 44.0-47.5) than individuals who misused prescription opioids (21.7 %; 95 % CI: 20.7-22.7). We observed higher rates of cocaine use among individuals reporting prescription stimulant misuse (12.0 %; 95 % CI: 11.0-12.9) compared to those reporting prescription opioid misuse (5.7 %; 95 % CI: 5.1-6.3, p < 0.001). Heroin use was more common among individuals with prescription opioid misuse (2.1 %; 95 % CI: 1.7-2.2) than prescription stimulant misuse (0.6 %; 95 % CI: 0.4-0.7, p < 0.001). However, rates of methamphetamine use among individuals with prescription stimulant misuse (2.4 %; 95 % CI: 1.9-3.0) did not differ from individuals with prescription opioid misuse (2.1 %; 95 % CI: 1.7-2.5, p = 0.67).

CONCLUSIONS: Prescription stimulant misuse, compared to prescription opioid misuse, was associated with higher levels of cocaine use but not methamphetamine use. Treatment providers should consider screening for other substance use disorders among people who report prescription stimulant use or misuse. Additional research should seek to understand the mechanism underlying the different associations between prescription stimulant misuse and cocaine or methamphetamine use.

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