A Qualitative Study of Women Prescription Drug Sellers

Principal Investigator: Sheigla Murphy, PhD
Project Director: Paloma Sales, PhD
Supported by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse R01 DA018159-04

As a result of President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act we were awarded two years of funding to conduct a continuation project to our “A Qualitative Study of Women in Drug Markets” (R01DA018159) to investigate women’s changing roles in drug markets.  In the course of conducting the interviews for the parent study, we discovered that women are participating in drug markets outside of our initially selected drug groups (marijuana, heroin, stimulants and club drugs), specifically in prescription and diverted pharmaceutical sales. We plan to interview 50 women and a comparison group of 50 men who sell prescription drugs (opioids, stimulants and Central Nervous System [CNS] depressants), including drugs that have been prescribed for them, those they have purchased from other patients and pharmaceuticals diverted to illicit markets.  There is a major gap in the extant literature concerning women prescription drug sellers.  This project will provide important information comparing the roles of women and men in illicit prescription drug markets and sellers’ health and social consequences.

The overall aim of this 24-month project is to conduct a qualitative study of women prescription drug sellers in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Employing theoretical sampling techniques, we will recruit 50 women and a comparison group of 50 men who have sold or exchanged prescription drugs five or more times in the prior six months, who are 18 years of age or older and who reside in the San Francisco.  By extending the study to relatively low level sellers of a number of different prescription drugs, we hope to interview a full range of distributors, from users/sellers to sellers who do not use, from initiates to long term dealers, from sellers who sell prescription drugs only to those who sell other drugs as well, from those who sell only their own prescribed medications to wholesalers who divert pharmaceuticals, and from those who sell to strangers to those who sell to friends or relatives.  Qualitative interview guides and questionnaires have been constructed to address the following seven research questions that are not hypotheses to be tested, but areas to be explored in detail in order to generate hypotheses for future research.

This exploratory project will provide much needed empirical information about women prescription pill sellers’ unique experiences in order to design more effective and appropriate public health initiatives and interventions to target gender-sensitive, gender-specific and drug-specific risk factors.  Findings from this project will provide information regarding the impact of gender on distribution practices and personal use patterns and, in turn, the health-related dangers for women who sell prescription drugs.  This study’s findings will be published in forms appropriate for three audiences – clinicians, people who work in drug treatment and prevention programs, and social scientists.