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Harm Reduct J. 2008 Oct 17;5:30. doi: 10.1186/1477-7517-5-30.

A qualitative exploration of prescription opioid injection among street-based drug users in Toronto: behaviours, preferences and drug availability.

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  • 1Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Toronto, Canada. michelle.firestone@utoronto.ca



There is evidence of a high prevalence of prescription opioid (PO) and crack use among street drug users in Toronto. The purpose of this qualitative study was to describe drug use behaviours and preferences as well as the social and environmental context surrounding the use of these drugs among young and old street-based drug injection drug users (IDUs).


In-depth interviews were conducted with 25 PO injectors. Topics covered included drug use history, types of drugs used, how drugs were purchased and transitions to PO use. Interviews were taped and transcribed. Content analysis was conducted to identify themes.


Five prominent themes emerged from the interviews: 1) Combination of crack and prescription opioids, 2) First injection experience and transition to prescription opioids, 3) Drug preferences and availability, 4) Housing and income and 5) Obtaining drugs. There was consensus that OxyContin and crack were the most commonly available drugs on the streets of Toronto. Drug use preferences and behaviours were influenced by the availability of drugs, the desired effect, ease of administration and expectations around the purity of the drugs. Distinct experiences were observed among younger users as compared to older users. In particular, the initiation of injection drug use and experimentation with POs among younger users was influenced by their experiences on the street, their peers and general curiosity.


Given the current profile of street-based drug market in Toronto and the emergence of crack and POs as two predominant illicit drug groups, understanding drug use patterns and socio-economic factors among younger and older users in this population has important implications for preventive and therapeutic interventions.

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