Drugs

Rollin' With the Dragon: Opioids Are Gaining Popularity in the Club Scene

The electronic dance music scene is most commonly associated with Molly, but there's a new kid in town.

Photo Credit: Avis De Miranda / Shutterstock.com

The club kids have found a new high. According to a new study from electronic dance music (EDM) drug use watcher Joseph Palamar, opioids are becoming increasingly popular among people in the throbbing beat scene. Nearly 10 percent of them reported using opioids in the past year, a rate 2.5 times the national average, and 5 percent reported using them in the past month.

Oxycontin was the most commonly used opioid in the EDM scene, followed by Vicodin, Percocet, codeine, and Purple Drank (also known as Sizzurp or Leans), which also contains codeine.

In the study, researchers surveyed nearly 1,000 fans (ages 18-40) as they were about to enter EDM parties at nightclubs and festivals in New York City. Attendees were asked about their nonmedical use of 18 different opioids, from prescription pain pills to black market heroin and fentanyl.

The EDM scene has long been known for drug use, but the researchers warn that the turn to opioids is a dangerous trend that should not be ignored.

"We've always known that electronic dance music party attendees are at high risk for use of club drugs such as ecstasy or Molly, but we wanted to know the extent of opioid use in this population," said Palamar, the study's lead author and an associate professor of population health at NYU School of Medicine. 

The most popular prescription opioid reported in this scene was Oxycontin, which, like many prescription opioids, is used to relieve pain, but also produces euphoric effects, inducing relaxation and happiness. Following close behind were Vicodin, Percocet, codeine, and Purple Drank. About 15 percent of opioid users reported snorting them, while 11 percent reported injecting them, both forms of ingestion more likely to result in dependence.

People who had already used opioids reported a much higher propensity for using them again than did people who had never used them. Among previous users, nearly three-quarters (73.4 percent) said they would do them again, while only about 6 percent of non-users said they would try them if offered.

"This population of experienced drug users needs to be reached to prevent initiation and continued use, which can lead to riskier and more frequent use, dependence, and deleterious outcomes such as overdose—particularly if opioids are combined with other drugs," Palamar warned. "Many individuals in this population are experienced with drugs such as ecstasy, but due to their experience with various drugs, they may underestimate the addictive potential of opioids, which are typically not used as 'club drugs,'" Palamar added.

The study comes as the U.S. finds itself in the midst of an opioid crisis where nearly two million people are dependent and more than a hundred are dying of overdoses every day.

"The population in general needs better education about opioids," said Palamar. "Taking opioid pills is much different from taking ecstasy and it needs to be understood that opioids are not party drugs."

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Phillip Smith has been a drug policy journalist for the past two decades. Smith is currently a senior writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute