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Immigrants likely to increase opioid use after spending time in the US, according to study


A new study from the University of Michigan has found that prescription opioid use is nearly five times as high among US residents compared with new immigrants to the country.

Study authors looked at the use of opioids by immigrants to the US over time and found that the longer an immigrant lived in the country, the higher their use of opioids became.

The study accounted for healthcare access, pain level, and income level.

Dr. Matthew Davis worked on the study. He said opioid use was directly related to time spent in the country.

“In increments of five or ten years the more and more they started having similar rates to non-immigrants,” he said.

Roughly 3% of new immigrants use some kind of prescription opioid. After 15 years, that number jumps to roughly 10%.

By comparison, the study says some 16% of US born residents use prescription opioids.

Davis said the findings could suggest a healthcare system that over-relies on opioids - or that immigrants are assimilating to US norms around pain management.

Davis said other studies have shown that Americans have specific attitudes towards pain.

“Americans perceive pain as something that has to be treated and shouldn’t exist and needs intervention,” he said.

It may be the case, Davis said, that immigrants begin to adopt those views the more time they spend in the country.

According to Davis, that difference is important for how the healthcare system should respond to the information.

“If it’s a healthcare system exposure then thinking about reducing opioid use have to focus on the healthcare system,” he said. “If it’s more of a cultural thing it is much much different in terms of the targets.”

Data for the research came from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Authors did not look at illicit drug use.

Davis said more research will be required to identify which of those two scenarios is most likely, or whether its a combination of both.