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Treatment trajectories and barriers in opioid agonist therapy for people who inject drugs in rural Puerto Rico.

Abstract

Participants were at least 18 years old; 87.7% were male, the mean age was 44.1 years, and the mean age at first injection was 22 years. Participants identified homelessness, lack of proper ID or other identifying documents, and previous negative experiences with MOUD as the main barriers to treatment entry and retention. In addition, PWID's belief that MOUD simply substitutes an illegal drug for a legal one, while furthering drug dependence by chronically subjecting patients to treatment, constitutes an additional barrier to entry. Findings from this study demonstrate that MOUD barriers to access and retention compound and are severely affected by poverty and other forms of vulnerability among PWID in rural Puerto Rico.

We used qualitative methods with a dataset from a study conducted during 2019 with 31 active PWID residing in rural Puerto Rico. The study gathered ethnographic data and narratives about treatment trajectories to document the lived experiences of PWID as they moved in and out of treatment.

Policies to increase access and retention should consider barriers not in isolation but as an assemblage of many factors.

Research has shown medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD) to have positive effects, including reducing HIV and HCV transmission, but important barriers to access remain among people who inject drugs (PWID). Barriers include lack of social and familial support, bureaucracy, distance to treatment, poverty, and homelessness. However, we know little about how these barriers interact with each other to shape PWID's drug treatment access and retention.

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