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J Urban Health. 2003 Jun;80(2):212-9.

Prevalence and circumstances of opiate overdose among injection drug users in the Russian Federation.

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Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Using a self-administered questionnaire, we examined the characteristics of opiate overdose in 16 cities of the Russian Federation. As indicated by responses from 763 injection drug users who took part in this study, 59% experienced an overdose, 81% reported seeing others experiencing an overdose, and 15% stated that they had witnessed a fatal overdose. The most common drug that caused opiate overdose was heroin (74%), although we also found that, in smaller towns, home-produced opiates tended to be a major overdose-causing agent. There were a number of factors that increased the likelihood of overdose, such as mixing opiates with alcohol and tranquilizers or having a longer history of opiate use. We also found that injecting drug users were reluctant to seek medical assistance when their peers experienced an overdose because of the perceived ineffectiveness of ambulance services and fear of police prosecution. At the same time, 57% of respondents admitted that they lacked appropriate skills to treat overdose. We discuss the implications of these findings for overdose prevention programs in Russia.

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