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Gender identity, stimulant drug use, and criminal justice history on internalized stigma among a nationally representative sample of adults who misuse opioids.

PURPOSE: The rise of fatal stimulant use among adults who use opioids is a public health problem. Internalized stigma is a barrier to substance use treatment, which is greater for women and populations with criminal justice involvement.

METHODS: Using a nationally representative sample of adults in the United States from a probability-based survey on household opinions in 2021, we examined characteristics of women (n = 289) and men (n = 416) who misuse opioids. In gender-stratified multivariable linear regression, we investigated factors associated with internalized stigma, and tested for the interaction of stimulant use and criminal justice involvement.

RESULTS: Compared to men, women reported greater mental health symptom severity (3.2 vs. 2.7 on a 1 to 6 scale, p < 0.001). Internalized stigma was similar between women (2.3 ± 1.1) and men (2.2 ± 0.1). Among women and not men, however, stimulant use was positively associated with internalized stigma (0.36, 95% CI [0.07, 0.65]; p = 0.02). Interaction between stimulant use and criminal justice involvement was negatively associated with internalized stigma among women (- 0.60, 95% CI [- 1.16, -0.04]; p = 0.04); among men, the interaction was not significant. Predictive margins illustrate among women, stimulant use eliminated the gap in internalized stigma such that women with no criminal justice involvement had a similar level of internalized stigma as women with criminal justice involvement.

CONCLUSION: Internalized stigma between women and men who misuse opioids differed based on stimulant use and criminal justice involvement. Future research should assess whether internalized stigma influences treatment utilization among women with criminal justice involvement.

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