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081 Navigating the ethical and logistical challenges of qualitative studies involving vulnerable and marginalized communities
  1. Daniel Kreuzberg,
  2. Liam Heerten-Rodriguez
  1. University of Nebraska Omaha, Omaha, USA


Statement of Purpose Individuals who misuse substances are frequently marginalized due to stigma and lack of public understanding of substance use disorders. The inclusion of those who have misused substances in evaluation is crucial to understand the factors that contribute to the development of substance use disorders and to inform prevention efforts.

Methods/Approach This project utilized qualitative methodology to address how participants describe their lived experiences of substance misuse, what interventions served as effective primary prevention, and what systemic or personal barriers are present in accessing treatment. Semi-structured interviews were conducted over Zoom or by phone. Audio was recorded and transcribed, then analyzed using MAXQDA software through the lens of constructivist grounded theory.

Results Participants reported substance use early in life as a coping strategy for trauma, loss, or other mental health concerns. The type of substances used was primarily influenced by availability, and it was common for participants to change substances. Access to treatment was hindered by financial barriers, waitlists, and struggles to find the right provider. Participants criticized their childhood substance abuse prevention education and believed that prevention education can be more effective by honoring young people’s autonomy while providing accurate information.

Conclusion Stigma around substance use disorders made it more difficult for some individuals to find treatment and support, and undermined prevention efforts. These results point to the need for more open and accurate information in prevention efforts, as well as more support for individuals seeking treatment for substance use disorders. Future research efforts should continue outreach to marginalized groups, especially individuals who have not successfully entered treatment.

Significance This research highlights the need for improved youth prevention efforts, as participants identified substance use early in life and ineffective prevention programming. It also suggests that substances are chosen based on availability, and not by a predetermined ‘substance of choice.’

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