Predictors of historical change in drug treatment coverage among people who inject drugs in 90 large metropolitan areas in the USA, 1993–2007

Tempalski, Barbara; Williams, Leslie D.; West, Brooke S.; Cooper, Hannah L. F.; Beane, Stephanie; Ibragimov, Umedjon; Friedman, Samuel R.

Adequate access to effective treatment and medication assisted therapies for opioid dependence has led to improved antiretroviral therapy adherence and decreases in morbidity among people who inject drugs (PWID), and can also address a broad range of social and public health problems. However, even with the success of syringe service programs and opioid substitution programs in European countries (and others) the US remains historically low in terms of coverage and access with regard to these programs. This manuscript investigates predictors of historical change in drug treatment coverage for PWID in 90 US metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) during 1993–2007, a period in which, overall coverage did not change.

Drug treatment coverage was measured as the number of PWID in drug treatment, as calculated by treatment entry and census data, divided by numbers of PWID in each MSA. Variables suggested by the Theory of Community Action (i.e., need, resource availability, institutional opposition, organized support, and service symbiosis) were analyzed using mixed-effects multivariate models within dependent variables lagged in time to study predictors of later change in coverage.

Mean coverage was low in 1993 (6.7%; SD 3.7), and did not increase by 2007 (6.4%; SD 4.5). Multivariate results indicate that increases in baseline unemployment rate (β = 0.312; pseudo-p < 0.0002) predict significantly higher treatment coverage; baseline poverty rate (β = − 0.486; pseudo-p < 0.0001), and baseline size of public health and social work workforce (β = 0.425; pseudo-p < 0.0001) were predictors of later mean coverage levels, and baseline HIV prevalence among PWID predicted variation in treatment coverage trajectories over time (baseline HIV * Time: β = 0.039; pseudo-p < 0.001). Finally, increases in black/white poverty disparity from baseline predicted significantly higher treatment coverage in MSAs (β = 1.269; pseudo-p < 0.0001).

While harm reduction programs have historically been contested and difficult to implement in many US communities, and despite efforts to increase treatment coverage for PWID, coverage has not increased. Contrary to our hypothesis, epidemiologic need, seems not to be associated with change in treatment coverage over time. Resource availability and institutional opposition are important predictors of change over time in coverage. These findings suggest that new ways have to be found to increase drug treatment coverage in spite of economic changes and belt-tightening policy changes that will make this difficult.

Geographic Areas


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Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy

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Published Here
December 20, 2022


Injection drug use, Predictors, Drug treatment coverage, Longitudinal, Mixed-effects multivariate models, Metropolitan areas, Drug policy, Theory of community action