BACKGROUND: Despite high morbidity and mortality among people who use drugs (PWUD) in rural America, most research is conducted within urban areas. Our objective was to describe influencing factors, motivations, and barriers to research participation and retention among rural PWUD.

METHODS: We recruited 255 eligible participants from community outreach and community-based, epidemiologic research cohorts from April to July 2019 to participate in a cross-sectional survey. Eligible participants reported opioid or injection drug use to get high within 30 days and resided in high-needs rural counties in Oregon, Kentucky, and Ohio. We aggregated response rankings to identify salient influences, motivations, and barriers. We estimated prevalence ratios to assess for gender, preferred drug use, and geographic differences using log-binomial models.

RESULTS: Most participants were male (55%) and preferred methamphetamine (36%) over heroin (35%). Participants reported confidentiality, amount of financial compensation, and time required as primary influential factors for research participation. Primary motivations for participation include financial compensation, free HIV/HCV testing, and contribution to research. Changed or false participant contact information and transportation are principal barriers to retention. Respondents who prefer methamphetamines over heroin reported being influenced by the purpose and use of their information (PR = 1.12; 95% CI: 1.00, 1.26). Females and Oregonians (versus Appalachians) reported knowing and wanting to help the research team as participation motivation (PR = 1.57; 95% CI: 1.09, 2.26 and PR = 2.12; 95% CI: 1.51, 2.99).

CONCLUSIONS: Beyond financial compensation, researchers should emphasize confidentiality, offer testing and linkage with care, use several contact methods, aid transportation, and accommodate demographic differences to improve research participation and retention among rural PWUD.

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Published in Trials, v. 22, article no. 948.

© 2021 The Author(s)

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

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This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health [NCATS U01TR002631] and NIDA [UH3DA044831, UH3DA044798, UG1DA015815]. KEL was supported by NIDA through K01DA048174.

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The data that support the findings of this study are not openly available due to the sensitive nature of the data and are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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Additional file 2: STROBE Statement—Checklist of items that should be included in reports of cross-sectional studies