Opioid use disorder treatment in rural settings: The primary care perspective

Valerie S. Harder, Andrea C. Villanti, Sarah H. Heil, M. Lindsey Smith, Diann E. Gaalema, Marjorie C. Meyer, Nathaniel H. Schafrick, Stacey C. Sigmon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Despite the efficacy of medications for treating opioid use disorder (OUD), they are underutilized, especially in rural areas. Our objectives were to determine the association between primary care practitioners (PCPs) rurality and concerns for patient substance use, and to identify factors associated with PCP comfort treating OUD, focusing on barriers to treatment. We developed a web-based survey completed by 116 adult-serving PCPs located in Vermont's rural and non-rural counties between April–August 2020. The instrument included PCP-identified concerns for substance use among patients, barriers to treating patients with OUD, and current level of comfort treating patients with OUD. On a scale from 0 to 10, rural PCPs reported higher concern for heroin (mean difference; Mdiff = 1.38, 95% CI: 0.13 to 2.63), fentanyl (Mdiff = 1.52, 95% CI: 0.29 to 2.74), and methamphetamine (Mdiff = 1.61, 95% CI: 0.33 to 2.90) use among patients compared to non-rural PCPs, and practitioners in both settings expressed high concern regarding their patients' use of tobacco (7.6 out of 10) and alcohol (7.0 out of 10). There was no difference in reported comfort in treating patients with OUD among rural vs. non-rural PCPs (Mdiff = 0.65, 95%CI: 0.17 to 1.46; P = 0.119), controlling for higher comfort among male PCPs and those waivered to prescribe buprenorphine (Ps < 0.05). Lack of training/experience and medication diversion were PCP-identified barriers associated with less comfort treating OUD patients, while time constraints was associated with more comfort (Ps < 0.05). Taken together, these data highlight important areas for dissemination of evidence-based training, support, and resources to expand OUD treatment capacity in rural communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106765
JournalPreventive Medicine
StatePublished - Nov 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Buprenorphine
  • Opioid agonist treatment
  • Opioid use disorder
  • Opioids
  • Primary care practitioners
  • Rural
  • Treatment barriers and comfort

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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