Understanding the etiology of prescription opioid abuse: Implications for prevention and treatment

Khary K. Rigg, John W. Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Although studies on the initiation of substance abuse abound, the body of literature on prescription opioid abuse (POA) etiology is small. Little is known about why and how the onset of POA occurs, especially among high-risk populations. In this study we aimed to fill this important knowledge gap by exploring the POA initiation experiences of 90 prescription opioid abusers currently in treatment and their narrative accounts of the circumstances surrounding their POA onset. This research was conducted within a storyline framework, which operates on the premise that the path to drug abuse represents a biography or a process rather than a static condition. Audiotapes of in-depth interviews were transcribed, coded, and thematically analyzed. Analyses revealed the presence of four trajectories leading to POA. This study adds to the limited research on POA etiology by not only illuminating the psychosocial factors that contribute to POA onset, but also by situating initiation experiences within broader life processes. The study findings provide crucial insights to policymakers and interventionists in identifying who is at risk for POA, and more important, when and how to intervene most efficaciously.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)963-975
Number of pages13
JournalQualitative Health Research
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2013


  • addiction / substance use
  • illness and disease, prevention
  • interviews, semistructured
  • mental health and illness
  • psychosocial issues
  • social constructionism
  • sociology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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