People, places, and stigma: A qualitative study exploring the overdose risk environment in rural Kentucky

Monica Fadanelli, David H. Cloud, Umedjon Ibragimov, April M. Ballard, Nadya Prood, April M. Young, Hannah L.F. Cooper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Background: Though overdose rates have been increasing in US rural areas for two decades, little is known about the rural risk environment for overdoses. This qualitative study explored the risk environment for overdoses among young adults in Eastern Kentucky, a rural epicenter of the US opioid epidemic. Methods: Participants were recruited via community-based outreach. Eligibility criteria included living in one of five rural Eastern Kentucky counties; being aged 18–35; and using opioids to get high in the past 30 days. Semi-structured interviews explored the rural risk environment, and strategies to prevent overdose and dying from an overdose. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and analyzed using constructivist grounded-theory methods. Results: In this sample (N = 19), participants reported using in a range of locations, including homes and outdoor settings; concerns about community stigma and law enforcement shaped the settings where participants used opioids and the strategies they deployed in these settings to prevent an overdose, and to survive an overdose. Almost half of participants reported using opioids in a “trap house” or other dealing locations, often to evade police after buying drugs, and reported that others present pressed them to use more than usual. If an overdose occurred in this setting, however, these same people might refuse to call EMS to protect themselves from arrest. Outdoor settings presented particular vulnerabilities to overdose and dying from an overdose. Most participants reported using opioids outdoors, where they skipped overdose prevention steps to reduce their risk of arrest; they worried that no one would find them if they overdosed, and that cell phone coverage would be too weak to summon EMS. Conclusion: Findings suggest that initiatives to reduce overdoses in Eastern Kentucky would be strengthened by de-escalating the War on Drugs and engaging law enforcement in initiatives to protect the health of people who use opioids.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102588
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
StatePublished - Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier B.V.


  • Appalachia
  • Opioids
  • Overdose
  • Risk environment framework
  • Rural
  • Stigma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health Policy


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