Under-representation of ethnic minorities at drug treatment services represents under-utilisation rather than a lower need. To explore barriers to drug treatment among ethnic communities we undertook a comprehensive review of international and Australian literature to identify problems their members experience upon the discovery of illicit drug use in their community, how drug treatment is addressed and challenges for improved drug treatment outcomes. The concepts and themes derived from the literature were then compared with our research findings from key informant interviews and consultations with non-illicit drug-using spokespersons from eight ethnic communities in Victoria, Australia. Intense shame and loss of face linked to illicit drug use was common in ethnic communities and as a consequence seeking help for drug treatment was fraught with difficulties. Accessing drug treatment services often occurred following a crisis, but a sense of despair and confusion often prevailed owing to a lack of knowledge of available assistance. Even when treatment services were accessed most key informants and ethnic communities viewed them as culturally insensitive, inflexible and with language barriers that obstructed the flow of effective information. Understanding of the ethnic family ethos was of pivotal importance but frequently ignored by treatment services, contributing to the exclusion of ethnic communities from appropriate assistance. Ethnic communities need to be assisted to participate in drug issue discussions and community development strategies in order for their utilisation of drug treatment services to be improved.