Barriers to Healthcare for People Who Inject Drugs: A Survey at a Syringe Exchange Program

Subst Use Misuse. 2020;55(6):896-899. doi: 10.1080/10826084.2019.1710207. Epub 2020 Jan 6.


Objective: Despite research demonstrating increased need for healthcare services among people who use drugs, few studies have investigated barriers to general healthcare in this population. We explored the most common barriers to general healthcare faced by clients utilizing syringe access services. Methods: Clients of Project Safe Point- a syringe access service serving Albany, NY and surrounding regions-were surveyed on their general health practices and specific health care barriers. Descriptive analyses were used to identify which barriers were most prevalent. Results: Of the clients surveyed (n = 59), the most common specific barriers were deprioritization of medical care (i.e., procrastination [80%], finding it easier to ignore the problem [63%]), cost (i.e., not having insurance [59%], not being able to afford the cost of care [58%]), transportation (53%), and judgement by clinicians (53%). When participants were asked to choose which was their biggest barrier to healthcare, judgement by clinicians was chosen more than twice as often as any other barrier. Conclusion: While people who inject drugs at a syringe access program often experience traditional barriers to healthcare (i.e., logistical barriers, procrastination), nearly a quarter of the clients reported feeling judged by clinicians as their most significant barrier. Future work in this field should explore interventions that motivate clients to seek care and that reduce stigma in healthcare interactions.

Keywords: Healthcare; barriers; drug use; stigma.

MeSH terms

  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Needle-Exchange Programs
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations*
  • Substance Abuse, Intravenous* / epidemiology
  • Syringes


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations