Physician blame and vulnerability: novel predictors of physician willingness to work with patients who misuse opioids

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Background: Successfully combating the opioid crisis requires patients who misuse opioids to have access to affirming and effective health care. However, there is a shortage of physicians who are willing to work with these patients. We investigated novel predictors of what might be contributing to physicians’ unwillingness to engage with this patient population to better identify and direct interventions to improve physician attitudes. Methods: 333 physicians who were board certified in the state of Ohio completed a survey about their willingness to work with patients who misuse opioids. The hypothesized relationships between the proposed predictors and willingness to work with this patient population were tested using multivariate regression, supplemented with qualitative analysis of open-text responses to questions about the causes of addiction. Results: Perceptions of personal invulnerability to opioid misuse and addiction, opioid misuse and addiction controllability, and health care provider blame for the opioid crisis were negatively associated with physician willingness to work with patients who misuse opioids after controlling for known predictors of physician bias toward patients with substance use disorders. Physicians working in family and internal medicine, addiction medicine, and emergency medicine were also more willing to work with this patient population. Conclusions: Distancing oneself and health care professionals from opioid misuse and placing blame on those who misuse are negatively associated with treatment willingness. Interventions to improve physician willingness to work with patients who misuse opioids can target these beliefs as a way to improve physician attitudes and provide patients with needed health care resources.