Stigma is a pervasive problem that can negatively impact healthcare outcomes for those affected by it. Stigmatized groups, such as people living with HIV who inject drugs, can face many barriers to care that stem from societal attitudes toward their condition. HIV and substance use stigma, when combined, can lead to further avoidance of care and poor health outcomes.
The findings from the SCRIPT (Stigma Coping to Reduce HIV Risks and Improve substance use Prevention and Treatment) study were recently published. This study was conducted by Karsten Lunze, MD, of Boston University Medical School, in collaboration with Jason Luoma, the CEO of Portland Psychotherapy, and aimed to develop and test an intervention to help people cope with intersectional HIV and substance use stigma. The research studied people with HIV who inject drugs, who often face significant barriers to accessing care due to both HIV and substance use stigma.
To develop the intervention, the research team modified an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) approach to target people with HIV who inject drugs. ACT is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that focuses on accepting difficult emotions and thoughts rather than trying to eliminate them. By teaching people how to cope with stigma through acceptance-based approaches, the study aims to reduce the link between internalized attitudes, fears, and shame, and healthcare avoidance behaviors.
The SCRIPT study aimed to evaluate the intervention’s effects on HIV and substance use stigma, care engagement, and injection drug use frequency. The study will also assess the intervention’s implementation by looking at participant satisfaction, intervention fidelity, and uptake.
The study found that people who received the intervention were more likely to start HIV and substance use treatment than those who did not receive the intervention. The increase in care engagement may be due to the fact that the intervention helped people to cope with stigma and reduced their avoidance of healthcare settings. The intervention was not designed to directly reduce shame and fears related to stigma, but rather focused on helping people to cope with stigma and improve their behavior and care seeking.
The implications for practice are that acceptance-based approaches can be effective in reducing stigma and improving care engagement in people with HIV who inject drugs. Healthcare providers should be trained to recognize and address intersectional stigma in their patients and use interventions that incorporate acceptance-based approaches to reduce stigma’s negative impact.
Portland Psychotherapy’s involvement in this study exemplifies the organization’s commitment to using its resources to address societal problems. By supporting research that aims to improve healthcare outcomes for stigmatized populations, Portland Psychotherapy is helping to make a positive impact on the community.