Corresponding Author

Stephanie L Creasy, MPH


Author Affiliations

For all authors:

Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, Pittsburgh PA

Center for Social Dynamics and Community Health, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, Pittsburgh PA


Introduction: Rural communities face barriers to opioid treatment and overdose prevention including concerns about stigma and lack of harm reduction services.

Purpose: The aim of this study was to explore community perspectives and understanding of harm reduction approaches to opioid use and overdose in a high-risk Northern Appalachian case community in Pennsylvania.

Methods: A small town approximately 10 miles from Pittsburgh was identified as the community with the greatest predicted probabilities of epidemic outbreak using posteriors from spatial models of hospitalizations for opioid use disorders. We interviewed 20 key stakeholders in the case community in using a semi-structured interview guide and analyzed the qualitative data using an inductive grounded theory approach.

Results: Our findings illustrate how conflicting perspectives about opioid dependence lay the foundation for the polarizing community perspectives on addressing opioid use and overdose and general disagreement regarding the legitimacy of harm reduction approaches versus abstinence-based recovery plans. Community members shared varying perspectives on multiple aspects of the opioid epidemic, including appropriate strategies, treatment, and overdose prevention methods and how community leaders and organizations should respond.

Implications: Opinions, coupled with a general lack of education regarding opioid use and harm reduction options, make it challenging for small communities with limited resources to create comprehensive plans to address the opioid crisis.


DOI: https://doi.org/10.13023/jah.0304.07

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Recommended Citation

Creasy SL, Thompson JR, Mair CF, Burke JG. Understanding Polarizing Community Perspectives on Harm Reduction Strategies: Challenges to Addressing the Opioid Crisis in Appalachian Pennsylvania. J Appalach Health 2021;3(4):74–88. DOI: https://doi.org/10.13023/jah.0304.07