Big group of happy teenage friends each one looking at their phone in a bench in the street.

In the U.S., 19.3 million people aged 18 and older suffer from substance use disorder. Of these individuals, 9.5 million also have a co-occurring mental health condition. One reason addiction is such a rampant issue is that it can affect anyone. There is no single reason that leads people to misuse substances, so it can be difficult to predict. Data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration show that while the disease affects people from all backgrounds, some groups are less likely to access treatment than others.

Data from a 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed:

  • 25% (344,000) of American Indian and Alaska Natives misused illicit drugs while only 9% (27,000) sought treatment.
  • 22% (34.9 million) of non-Hispanic or Latino whites misused illicit drugs while only 8% (2.8 million) sought treatment.
  • 22% (6.7 million) of Black or African Americans misused illicit drugs while only 6% (468,000) sought treatment.
  • 19% (7.8 million) of Hispanic or Latinos misused illicit drugs while only 1% (448,000) sought treatment.

Some factors that tend to affect access to treatment options for certain groups include:

  • Stigma – People seeking treatment for substance use disorder often face stigma but some have added pressures due to negative attitudes or discrimination towards cultural, gender-based, religious or other groups.
  • Socioeconomic challenges – Factors like where a person lives, their education level, income and occupation can all impact how addiction issues and treatment are perceived.
  • Health care access – People in minority groups have higher rates of uninsured individuals, which has a severe impact on seeking out and receiving care. Minority communities also have less access to mental health services and receive lower quality care While strides are being made to address these issues, gaps remain.
  • Discriminatory drug regulations and policies – The American Society of Addiction Medicine recently released a statement recognizing systemic racism as a social determinant of health and acknowledging its presence in drug policy.

What can be done to improve treatment access among underrepresented groups? The first step is to acknowledge existing disparities and work to address them. Providers need to better understand the needs of diverse patient groups and the impact their values, culture and background have on the recovery journey. Similarly, patients should be able to seek treatment access without fear of running into barriers that have historically affected them. This feat is easier said than done, but it’s an outcome we must continuously strive towards to combat the death and devastation substance use disorder is having on our communities.

If you or someone you know needs help for an addiction, call 833-505-HOPE today. Click here to read CleanSlate’s commitment to meeting the treatment needs of diverse patient groups.

Sally Combest

Dr. Sally Combest is Regional Medical Director for CleanSlate in Arizona, Texas and Wisconsin.