New Publication from the HEALing Communities Study: Stigma of Opioid Use in Rural and Urban Communities

Maggie Barrows
November 03, 2023

Alissa Davis and co-authors examined the differences in terms of stigma toward opioid users in rural and urban communities, as well as based on racial segregation and social inequity.

A new publication in the International Journal of Drug Policy examines perceived community stigma toward people treated for opioid use disorder, toward medication for opioid use disorder, and toward naloxone. The researchers, working as part of the National Institutes for Health-funded HEALing Communities Study, found that stigma was significantly higher among rural than urban stakeholders. They found no differences in opioid-related stigma among communities based on racialized segregation or social inequity, and recommend programs and policies to reduce community opioid-related stigma, particularly in rural areas.

The publication, "Community-level determinants of stakeholder perceptions of community stigma toward people with opioid use disorders, harm reduction services and treatment in the HEALing Communities Study," is authored by Alissa Davis, Kristi Lynn Stringer, Mari-Lynn Drainoni, Carrie B. Oser, Hannah K. Knudsen, Alison Aldrich, Hilary L. Surratt, Daniel M. Walker, Louisa Gilbert, Dget L. Downey, Sam D. Gardner, Sylvia Tan, Lisa M. Lines, Nathan Vandergrift, Nicole Mack, JaNae Holloway, Karsten Lunze, Ann Scheck McAlearney, Timothy R. Huerta, Dawn A. Goddard-Eckrich, and Nabila El-Bassel.

"Community stigma toward people with opioid use disorder (OUD) has significant adverse effects on access to evidence-based treatment for OUD and harm reduction services as well as quality of care, yet there is limited research on community-level factors associated with community opioid-related stigma," says the paper's first author, Alissa Davis. "Our analysis across 66 communities in four states indicates higher levels of perceived opioid-related community stigma in rural communities. This has important implications for programs and policies, as rural communities have long received fewer resources to combat the opioid epidemic than urban communities. The higher levels of opioid-related stigma in rural communities may further impede access to harm reduction services and evidence-based treatment. Policies and programs designed to combat the opioid epidemic need to simultaneously address community stigma, particularly in rural communities."

The HEALing Communities Study is an NIH-funded effort to reduce overdose deaths in New York and three other highly-impacted states. The New York portion of the study, led by SIG director Nabila El-Bassel, brings together many researchers and disciplines from around the University and New York state, including government agencies, non-profits, and people with lived experience of opioid use.

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