Reconsidering Addiction and Opioid Abuse: Is There a Causal Chain between Opioid Addiction, Morbidity and Mortality? (2016-2017)

Medical and public health researchers have noted a precipitous rise of both medical and nonmedical opioid abuse. Of concern for both medical professionals and policymakers is the suggestion that opioid abuse, whether medically-sourced or not, has become the second most common illicit drug, behind only marijuana.

The current opioid addiction crisis has been linked to doctors overprescribing opioids. Yet no causal chain has demonstrated a link between prescribing and addiction, and not everybody who takes opioids becomes addicted. Who does become addicted and who doesn’t?

This Bass Connections project reconsidered the causal chain between drug use, addiction, hospitalization, illness and death needs. The team began by exploring two key questions: Can we find a causal link between prescribing and addiction? Can we predict who among those prescribed will actually become addicted to opioids? Linking together large datasets that have not previously been integrated in the same study, the team used death records, arrest and conviction records, credit reports and other public records to gain a more accurate understanding of the lives of individuals, in order to estimate the probability that a decedent was addicted to opioids, heroin or some other pain reliever.

Next, they narrowed their focus to a link between impulsivity and addiction. The team recruited 167 Duke students for a survey that included questions on impulsivity and signs of addiction-related behavior. The survey included questions from many previous studies, such as the Opioid Risk Tool, the Impulsivity BIS11 survey, the Eysenck impulsivity survey and the 2017 State and Local Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

Findings from this survey created a profile allowing team members to analyze impulsivity and other factors with drug use. The team conducted statistical analysis to explore if there was a significant relationship between impulsivity and addictive behavior. Team members concluded that impulsivity is positively correlated with “addicting” behavior. The most predictive dimension of the impulsivity index was significantly correlated with addicting behavior. Since not everyone who uses drugs can or will become addicted to them, there is a need to better target policies.


Summer 2016 – Spring 2017

Team Outcomes

Reconsidering Addiction and Opioid Abuse (Maddie Carrington, Noah Davis, Khuong Do, Juliana Zhang)

Family-oriented activities at Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS) Discovery Day (April 9, 2017)

This Team in the News

Bass Connections Projects from Duke Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Team Leaders

  • Mathew McCubbins, Arts & Sciences-Political Science

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Madeline Carrington, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Noah Davis, Electrical & Computer Egr(BSE)
  • Khuong Do, Economics (BS), Mathematics (AB2)
  • Juliana Zhang, Neuroscience (BS)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Thomas Buchheit, School of Medicine-Anesthesiology
  • Steven Prakken, School of Medicine-Anesthesiology