Peer Influence on Opioid Drug Use Initiation (2020)

Barbara J. Costello, Professor of Sociology

Dr. Costello plans on conducting qualitative research on the social network correlates of initiating opioid drug use. Research shows that most misuse of opioid drugs is the result of the use of drugs that were not prescribed for those misusing them. Approximately two-thirds of those misusing prescription opioids acquire them from friends or family members. The percentage of heroin users who get heroin from friends, romantic partners, or family for their first use is even higher, typically over 90%. There is consensus in the research literature that social networks are key determinants of the misuse of opioid drugs. Despite this consensus, very little of this research draws on social science theory and research. There is a great deal of research in criminology and related disciplines on peer influence. Dr. Costello’s research has been unique in the field in its focus on peers as a source of influence away from deviant behaviors, in other words, positive peer influence. Dr. Costello plans on conducting approximately 25 in-depth interviews with participants invited to participate through opioid drug use treatment programs. This project will serve as a source of pilot data to use in developing a proposal for funding a larger-scale study.