Sociology and Criminal Justice

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Objective: This paper aims to identify the needed healthcare and social services barriers for women living in suburban communities who are using or have used methamphetamine. Drug users are vulnerable to injury, violence and transmission of infectious diseases, and having access to healthcare has been shown to positively influence prevention and intervention among this population. Yet little is known regarding the social context of suburban drug users, their risks behaviors, and their access to healthcare.

Methods: The data collection involved participant observation in the field, face-to-face interviews and focus groups. Audio-recorded in-depth life histories, drug use histories, and resource needs were collected from 31 suburban women who were former or current users of methamphetamine. The majority was drawn from marginalized communities and highly vulnerable to risk for injury and violence. We provided these women with healthcare and social service information and conducted follow-up interviews to identify barriers to these services.

Results: Barriers included (1) restrictions imposed by the services and (2) limitations inherent in the women's social, economic, or legal situations. We found that the barriers increased the women's risk for further injury, violence and transmission of infectious diseases. Women who could not access needed healthcare and social resources typically used street drugs that were accessible and affordable to self-medicate their untreated emotional and physical pain.

Conclusion: Our findings add to the literature on how healthcare and social services are related to injury prevention. Social service providers in the suburbs were often indifferent to the needs of drug-using women. For these women, health services were accessed primarily at emergency departments (ED). To break the cycle of continued drug use, violence and injury, we suggest that ED staff be trained to perform substance abuse assessments and provide immediate referral to detoxification and treatment facilities.Policy change is needed for EDs to provide the care and linkages to treatment that can prevent future injuries and the spread of infectious diseases.

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Western Journal of Emergency Medicine

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