A study conducted by two professors at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, found that physician bias and stigma toward people who misuse opioids was greater among rural practitioners vs. those in urban settings.
The findings were recently published in the journal Psychiatric Services.
Professors Berkeley Franz, PhD, and Lindsay Dhanani, PhD, conducted an online survey of 408 board-certified physicians in Ohio regarding their views on clinical care for patients who misuse opioids. After removing responses from practitioners with missing county-level data, 274 respondents remained—37 in rural areas and 237 in urban areas.
Physicians in the rural areas reported higher levels of bias toward patients with OUD. The difference remained statistically significant after accounting for known bias predictors and physician specialty, with those who practice addiction medicine reporting lower levels of bias compared to those in other areas of practice.
“What we know about rural opioid abuse is that if physicians rarely work with this patient population, the more bias is held,” Franz said in a news release announcing the findings. “Physicians in urban settings, by contrast, seem to have more experience with both providing services for opioid misuse and working with that population, which may explain the lower bias that we found among this physician population.”
The two professors plan to develop an online intervention with the intention of educating providers on bias and raising awareness around more accessible addiction treatment services. Physicians who participate in the online program would then be given a follow-up study to measure any changes in their answers and bias.