Service use and barriers to care among heroin users: Results from a national survey

Orion Mowbray, Brian E. Perron, Amy S.B. Bohnert, Amy R. Krentzman, Michael G. Vaughn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Background: Heroin use is associated with many serious consequences. While effective treatments exist, barriers to services persist. Understanding service use and barriers to treatment can structure treatment practice and target interventions for those who are most at risk. Objectives: To describe patterns and correlates of substance abuse service utilization and treatment barriers among a nationally representative sample of heroin users. Methods: Data for this study were derived from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. This study focused on lifetime heroin users (N = 150). Results: Fifty-nine percent of heroin users reported receiving at least one treatment service. The most common services used were 12-step programs, detoxification, and rehabilitation. Approximately 44% reported at least one barrier to treatment. The most common were lack of motivation and beliefs that it could be managed alone. In a multivariate logistic regression, having a heroin use disorder was associated with a greater likelihood of receiving services (OR = 6.09) and experiencing a barrier (OR = 11.11) compared to those without a disorder. Conclusions and Scientific Significance: High rates of service use and barriers were observed for all levels of heroin involvement. These findings underscore the importance of improving access to services for this group, even when full criteria for a drug disorder is not met. Integration of motivational approaches is also needed within the most common services used. To our knowledge, this is the first study to describe patterns and correlates of service use using a nationally representative community sample of heroin users.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)305-310
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by that NIAA (1R03AA019575-01), the Curtis Center of the University of Michigan, School of Social Work, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration, Health Services Research and Development Service and Office of Mental Health Services.


  • disparities
  • drug treatment
  • heroin use
  • treatment utilization


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