Drug study student wins prize

Drug users are more prone to common chronic respiratory diseases according to award winning research conducted by a University of Aberdeen medical student.

Frances Palmer followed up observations made by Dr John Haughney, a primary care respiratory specialist, and findings from another study conducted by the University’s drug misuse team, where researchers Dr Catriona Matheson and Dr Mariesha Jaffray noted many methadone patients have respiratory disease and/or prescriptions for respiratory medication.

Supervised by Dr Mandy Moffat and Dr Jaffray from the University, Frances spent 20 weeks analysing GP data from more than 18,000 patients across Scotland provided by the Primary Care Clinical Informatics Unit (PCCIU).

“We compared the rates of respiratory disease and medication use in drug misusers compared with non-drug users,” said Frances, who is a 5th year medical student, but who carried out the research for a BSc medical science degree.

“The results revealed an increased prevalence of chronic respiratory disease in drug misusers compared with those who didn’t take drugs.”

Frances’ research also showed:

·         17.1% of the drug misuser sample had been diagnosed with asthma compared to 10.9% of non drug users.

·         2.4% of the drug misuser sample had a diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) compared to 0.8% of non drug users.

·         Drug misusers were significantly more likely to be prescribed chronic respiratory disease medications than non drug users.

Frances (24), who is originally from Bristol, added: “Adjusting for smoking status still revealed that drug misusers have a significantly increased risk of having respiratory disease or being prescribed respiratory medication.

“This indicates there may be more complex factors involved relating to drug use which needs further exploration. We have set the scene for future work to begin to determine the potential reasons for this association.”

Frances’ research has earned her the British Thoracic Society’s 2010 BTS Medical Student Abstract Prize.

Dr Catriona Matheson, who heads the University’s drugs misuse team, added: “We are delighted that Frances has won this award. It reflects the high quality of the project as well as the clinical importance of the topic.’’

“Both drug misuse and respiratory disease are major issues in primary care as well as being implicated in accident and emergency admissions.

“The drug misuse research team are working with respiratory specialists to take this work forward and explore the nature of respiratory disease in this disadvantaged group.”

Frances added: “Much credit is also owed to the fellow study authors for all their help and support, PCCIU and everyone at the Centre of Academic Primary Care at the University of Aberdeen."

Frances will receive her prize at a British Thoracic Society reception taking place in December.