The opioid epidemic has been a major public health issue for years, with devastating consequences for individuals, families, and communities throughout the United States.
While opioid addiction affects people of all races and ethnicities, studies show that people of color are disproportionately affected, facing significant barriers to effective treatment.
There are several factors that contribute to these disparities as well as possible solutions to ensure that all people facing substance abuse have equal access to addiction treatment.
How Racial Disparities In Opioid Treatment Are Measured
A study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) looked at Medicare claims from a sample of Black, Hispanic, or white people who had received medications to treat opioid use disorder (OUD).
Data showed that there were substantial differences in the receipt of OUD drugs based on the race of the person seeking care.
Results of the data revealed the following:
- Buprenorphine was given to 12.7% of Black people, 1.8.7% of Hispanic people, and 23.3% of white people in need of medication-assisted treatment (MAT).
- Naloxone was received by 14.4%, 20.7%, and 22.9% of clients, respectively.
- Benzodiazepines were received by 23.4%, 29.6%, and 37.1% of clients, respectively.
These differences illustrate how people of color are less likely to receive effective OUD medications than non-racial minorities also battling opioid addiction.
Factors That Block Access To Opioid Use Disorder Drugs For People Of Color
There are many factors that may block access to OUD drugs for people of color, including intervention gaps, systemic racism in the behavioral health system, and other types of trauma.
Screening And Intervention Gaps
Research has shown that people of color are less likely to be screened for substance abuse or referred to addiction treatment programs by healthcare professionals.
The study, conducted by the University of New Mexico, found that only 25% of clinicians screened people for substance abuse in Hispanic and Native American communities.
The clinicians surveyed indicated that they only screened people they viewed to have a high risk of addiction, rather than low to moderate-risk.
This practice misses key screening opportunities among a much larger group of people potentially in need of help.
Racial Discrimination In Behavioral Health
People of color report experiencing racial discrimination when seeking mental health and addiction treatment services.
This discrimination can lead to distrust of healthcare providers and a reluctance to seek treatment.
Other Types Of Trauma
Racial minorities are also more likely to experience stressful life situations that often result in trauma, including poverty, housing insecurity, and exposure to violence.
Difficult life experiences and trauma may impact their ability to access treatment.
How To Ensure Equal Access To Opioid Addiction Treatment
To ensure that all people battling opioid addiction have equal access to treatment, healthcare personnel and policymakers must take steps to address these disparities.
Below are some of the potential solutions to this issue.
Legislative And Policy Solutions
In addition to addressing the barriers to treatment at the healthcare level, policymakers and legislators can play an important role in addressing opioid addiction treatment disparities.
Policy solutions may include:
- expanding Medicaid coverage for substance use disorder treatment
- increasing funding for community-based treatment programs
- addressing bias and discrimination in the healthcare system
- increasing access to stigma-coping intervention groups
Addressing Structural Racism In Behavioral Health
Addressing structural racism in the behavioral health system requires healthcare professionals and policymakers to recognize the ways racial discrimination impacts people of color.
Specific steps to address structural racism may include:
- increasing diversity in the behavioral healthcare workforce to better serve the needs of a diverse population
- promoting equal access to behavioral healthcare, ensuring that services are accessible and culturally sensitive to all clients
- providing cultural competency training to help medical professionals understand and appreciate the unique cultural differences in clients seeking care
Treatment Options For Opioid Abuse
If you or a loved one are in need of opioid addiction treatment, there are a number of effective, evidence-based services available.
Treatments for opioid use disorder often include:
- medication-assisted treatment (MAT) using methadone or buprenorphine
- medically monitored detox
- behavioral therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
- dual diagnosis treatment for people with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders
Receiving the appropriate level of treatment for opioid addiction is essential for achieving long-term recovery.
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Published on May 17, 2023
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- The New England Journal of Medicine
- Psycom Pro
- The University of New Mexico