The use of alcohol has long been considered a contributing factor to gun-related violence. While studies have also found an association between gun violence and illicit drug use, these studies grouped opioids with other drugs such as cocaine.
Now, the first study specifically looking at the relationship between opioid addiction and gun involvement, led by a School of Public Health researcher, has found that opioid-dependent individuals are more likely than alcohol-dependent individuals to carry guns, commit or be victims of gun violence, and be present where shots are fired.
The study, published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, found that more than half of opioid users reported having been present when shots were fired, and about one-third of opioid users owned a gun, carried a gun, or had been shot at. Opioid-dependent individuals were about 12 times more likely to carry a gun for protection than alcohol-dependent individuals, 7 times more likely to have been shot at, and 6 times more likely to have had a gun-related arrest.
“Opioid users lead gun-involved lives,” says lead author Michael Stein, professor and chair of health law, policy & management, noting the study took place in Massachusetts, the state with the lowest gun ownership in America. “Opioid users are not only at risk of dying from overdose and infection, but also from gun violence.”
The researchers surveyed 386 people seeking inpatient opioid detoxification and 51 people seeking alcohol withdrawal management in Fall River, Massachusetts. Stein and colleagues considered 11 ways of interacting with guns.
They found that the rate of gun possession among their respondents was more than twice the rate of Massachusetts residents generally.
Nearly one-third of opioid-dependent respondents had carried a gun for protection and been shot at, and about half had been threatened with a gun or had been present when shots were fired. Of those who didn’t own a gun, 55 percent said they could get a gun quickly if they so desired.
The researchers also found being male, being a person of color, having experienced homelessness, and having been incarcerated were all significantly associated with more involvement with guns, while higher self-control scores were associated with a significant decrease in gun involvement.
“Gun involvement in certain settings may not be irrational or an unnecessary demonstration of power, but rather self-protective, unfortunately,” Stein says. “Drug users often feel unsafe, and in turn contribute to the perilousness of their communities.”
The study was co-authored by Shannon R. Kenney, assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown University; Bradley J. Anderson of the behavioral medicine and addictions research program at Butler Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island; and Genie L. Bailey of Stanley Street Treatment and Resources, Inc, and Brown University.