A qualitative analysis of barriers to opioid agonist treatment for racial/ethnic minoritized populations

J Subst Abuse Treat. 2023 Jan;144:108918. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2022.108918. Epub 2022 Oct 26.


Introduction: Clinical guidelines strongly recommend opioid agonist treatment (OAT) as first-line treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD). However, racial/ethnic minoritized patients are less likely to receive OAT compared to non-Hispanic White patients. Reasons for this treatment gap must be elucidated to address racial/ethnic disparities in OAT. Our objective is to evaluate perceptions of and barriers to OAT across racial/ethnic groups in individuals with OUD (not on OAT).

Methods: This qualitative study used semi-structured telephone interviews of adult patients (n = 41) with OUD (not currently being treated with OAT) from the Boston area from September 2020 through February 2021. We developed a codebook through author consensus based on review of themes in initial transcripts. We performed qualitative thematic analysis of the transcripts. We evaluated patients' perceptions of treatment for OUD across the study population and analyzed differences and similarities in perceptions between racial and ethnic groups.

Results: Across all racial/ethnic categories in our sample, anticipated stigma was the most frequently reported barrier to OAT and most patients preferred non-OAT methods for treatment. Non-Hispanic White participants had more favorable opinions of OAT compared to racial/ethnic minoritized participants. Racial/ethnic minoritized participants reported social support as the main facilitator to addiction treatment, while non-Hispanic White participants reported self-motivation as the most important factor. Racial/ethnic minoritized participants preferred treatment for OUD via non-OAT treatments and their second most preferred option was residential treatment. Non-Hispanic White participants preferred naltrexone and their second most preferred option was non-OAT treatments.

Conclusions: Racial/ethnic minoritized patients' preference for residential treatment and social support, along with their distrust of OAT, illustrates a desire for psychosocial and peer recovery-based care that addresses social determinants of health. Addiction specialists may improve engagement with and treatment of racial/ethnic minoritized groups with culturally tailored interventions for OUD that offer psychosocial treatment in combination with OAT, and by partnering with organizations with strong ties to racial/ethnic minoritized communities. This kind of response would reflect the structural and cultural humility that is needed to adequately address the OUD needs of these underserved populations.

Keywords: BIPOC; Buprenorphine; Ethnic; Medications for opioid use disorder; Methadone; Minoritized; Opioid agonist treatment; Opioid use disorder; Racial.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Ethnicity*
  • Humans
  • Opiate Substitution Treatment / methods
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / drug therapy
  • Racial Groups


  • Analgesics, Opioid