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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU: Stigma Is Barrier to Health Care for People Who Inject Drugs

A new study led by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers finds that stigma in health care is pervasive for people who inject drugs. To avoid that stigma, the study finds, people who inject drugs decide not to disclose substance use to clinicians, downplay pain, seek care at community-based organizations such as needle exchanges or HIV/Hepatitis C testing centers, or put off seeking care altogether until they wind up in the emergency room.

The study, published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, drew from interviews with people who inject drugs in Boston and Providence, also used by the research team in other recent studies.

“Though we discussed many serious topics during the interviews (overdose, drug use, sex work), participants became noticeably emotionally charged when describing stigmatizing encounters in the healthcare system,” says study lead author Ms. Dea Biancarelli, a master’s student and senior research assistant in the Department of Health Law, Policy & Management at BUSPH.

“Other people may assume that people who inject drugs aren’t affected by these negative interactions, when in fact these events are quite important and hurtful to them, so much so that they change how they interact with the system as a result,” she says.

The researchers found that 29 of the 33 interviewees reported being treated unfairly or being discriminated against in a healthcare setting because of their injection drug use.

Read more about this study.