Healthcare stigma and HIV risk among rural people who inject drugs

Hilary L. Surratt, Janet K. Otachi, Christopher J. McLouth, Nikita Vundi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Introduction: The HIV epidemic is increasingly penetrating rural areas of the U.S. due to evolving epidemics of injection drug use. Many rural areas experience deficits in availability of HIV prevention, testing and harm reduction services, and confront significant stigma that inhibits care seeking. This paper examines enacted stigma in healthcare settings among rural people who inject drugs (PWID) and explores associations of stigma with continuing high-risk behaviors for HIV. Methods: PWID participants (n = 324) were recruited into the study in three county health department syringe service programs (SSPs), as well as in local community-based organizations. Trained interviewers completed a standardized baseline interview lasting approximately 40 min. Bivariate logistic regression models examined the associations between enacted healthcare stigma, health conditions, and injection risk behaviors, and a mediation analysis was conducted. Results: Stigmatizing health conditions were common in this sample of PWID, and 201 (62.0 %) reported experiencing stigma from healthcare providers. Injection risk behaviors were uniformly associated with higher odds of enacted healthcare stigma, including sharing injection equipment at most recent injection (OR = 2.76; CI 1.55, 4.91), and lifetime receptive needle sharing (OR = 2.27; CI 1.42, 3.63). Enacted healthcare stigma partially mediated the relationship between having a stigmatizing health condition and engagement in high-risk injection behaviors. Discussion: Rural PWID are vulnerable to stigma in healthcare settings, which contributes to high-risk injection behaviors for HIV. These findings have critical public health implications, including the importance of tailored interventions to decrease enacted stigma in care settings, and structural changes to expand the provision of healthcare services within SSP settings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108878
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
StatePublished - Sep 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier B.V.


  • HIV
  • PWID
  • Rural
  • Stigma
  • Substance use disorder

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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