Prescription and illicit opioids were involved in over 42,000 deaths in the USA in 2016. Rural counties experience higher rates of opioid prescribing and, although opioid prescribing rates have fallen in recent years, the rate of decline is less in rural areas. The sociocultural context of rural life may impact opioid misuse in important ways; however, little research directly explores this possibility. We performed a systematic review of English-language manuscripts in U.S. context to determine what is known about social networks, norms, and stigma in relation to rural opioid misuse. Of nine articles identified and reviewed, two had only primary findings associated with social networks, norms, or stigma, five had only secondary findings, and two had both primary and secondary findings. The normalization of prescription opioid use along with environmental factors likely impacts the prevalence of opioid misuse in rural communities. Discordant findings exist regarding the extent to which social networks facilitate or protect against nonmedical opioid use. Lastly, isolation, lack of treatment options, social norms, and stigma create barriers to substance use treatment for rural residents. Although we were able to identify important themes across multiple studies, discordant findings exist and, in some cases, findings rely on single studies. The paucity of research examining the role of social networks, norms, and stigma in relation to nonmedical opioid use in rural communities is evident in this review. Scholarship aimed at exploring the relationship and impact of rurality on nonmedical opioid use is warranted.
Social norms associated with nonmedical opioid use in rural communities: A systematic review
Translational Behavioral Medicine, 9 (6), 1224-1232. doi: 10.1093/tbm/ibz129. PMCID: PMC6875642.