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Characteristics of rural opioid users create obstacles to treatment

March 1, 2016
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Rural users of heroin and prescription opioids are generally younger, in poorer health and under more economic hardship than their urban counterparts, suggests an analysis of federal data conducted by the Maine Rural Health Research Center. Users in rural communities also are less likely to perceive risk from experimental use of opioids, the center's report on its findings states.

The analysis, published last month as a research and policy brief, examined six years' worth of past-year drug use data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, covering the period from 2008-2013. Groups identified as being at higher risk of opioid use in rural areas were adolescents and young adults, men, low-income individuals, persons with low educational attainment, persons with no military background, and the uninsured.

The center reported that while there were no differences between rural and urban opioid users in past-year treatment experiences or perceived need for treatment in the past, “compared with urban opioid users, rural users demonstrate multiple socio-economic vulnerabilities that may negatively impact their ability to seek treatment and recover.”

These issues add to the challenge of accessing treatment in communities where comparatively few services are readily available locally. The vast majority of opioid treatment programs (OTPs) offering methadone treatment are located in urban areas, for example, and most rural counties lack a physician with the federal waiver needed to prescribe buprenorphine, the report states.

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