Study Finds Extreme Smoking Rates Among Rural Drug Users

Dr. Marlon Mundt
Dr. Marlon Mundt

A new study, conducted by a team of researchers from UW-CTRI and published in JAMA Open Network, has found that rural-dwelling people who inject drugs have a smoking rate of more than 90%, higher than any other reported population.

This extreme number—the average smoking rates among US adults is about 13.8%, the lowest it has been since World War II—demands new approaches to treating tobacco use that can cater to this group’s needs.

“One of the biggest obstacles for this population is their access to healthcare,” said Dr. Marlon Mundt, one of the researchers on the project, “so we have to be very aware of when we will have opportunities to reach these individuals.”

Of the 993 participants in the study—recruited from syringe service program offices in Wisconsin who had injected drugs to get high in the last thirty days—909 reported they were currently smoking. Of that 909, 74% were enrolled in Medicaid.

64% had experienced homelessness in the last six months, and only 42% had seen a primary care physician in that same time period.

“We are very lucky to have resources like Vivent Health that can take those first steps to reaching this subpopulation,” said Mundt; Vivent Health is an AIDS resource center that provides valuable help to people who inject drugs. “The next step is to find what changes to healthcare would benefit them the most.”

“We want to meet them at the places they’re at. Find out what they need and how to get it to them.

“When the opportunity arises, we want to be ready.”

Akhtar WZ, Mundt MP, Koepke R, Krechel S, Fiore MC, Seal DW, Westergaard R. (2020) Prevalence of Tobacco Use Among People Who Inject Drugs in Rural Communities. JAMA Network Open. Online March 10, 2020. 3(3):e200493.