Addressing Disparities in Treatment for Substance Use Disorder Among Individuals with Developmental Disabilities: Perspectives from Treatment Facility Employees



Research on substance use disorder (SUD) among individuals with developmental disabilities (DD) is limited. The extant literature suggests that people with DD are less likely to use substances overall compared to people without a disability; however, they are more susceptible to SUD if they do use substances. Among facilities in the United States that provide aid for individuals with DD and treatment facilities for individuals with SUD, there are currently no interdisciplinary practice guidelines or training materials available for providers treating those with a co-diagnosis of DD and SUD. Our project aims to reduce the disparities between treatment guidelines and materials available for people with a co-diagnosis of both SUD and DD. The purpose of this analysis was to gauge overall awareness of providing treatment for individuals with SUD/DD co-diagnosis and reflect on current protocols regarding this population.


In this project, interviews were conducted with workers at facilities that primarily provide SUD services. Relevant facilities were identified and selected through systematic internet searches. In this study, 11 questions were asked to workers at facilities through 15-30 minute phone interviews. Questions that were used for this analysis revolved around themes of workers’ perspectives on the importance of integrating SUD/DD services, their current practices, and their future recommendations for integrating care for individuals with both SUD/DD.


We conducted a total of 12 interviews. Responses came from the South and Midwest United States geographical regions. From these interviews, we found that most programs aim to individualize their approaches to treating this specific population. However, there is no standardized approach to how they individualize these cases. Furthermore, many programs expressed that they rarely refer individuals with a co-diagnosis of SUD/DD outside of their agency and feel inadequately prepared to treat individuals with SUD/DD co-diagnosis, which further emphasizes the need for accessible standardized guidelines. Overall, many workers expressed a need for improved access to screenings, assessment tools, specific guidelines, knowledge, training, and specialized programs for the variety of specific types of DDs.


People with DD that experience SUD are a vulnerable population with few resources. To meet the needs of this vulnerable population, standardized guidelines and training materials should be developed to address the specific needs of this patient population and equip healthcare providers and stakeholders with the tools necessary to ensure this population has proper and equitable access to treatment.