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Transitioning off methadone: A qualitative study exploring why patients discontinue methadone treatment for opioid use disorder.

Thakrar AP, Pytell JD, Stoller KB, Walters V, Weiss RD, Chander G. Transitioning off methadone: A qualitative study exploring why patients discontinue methadone treatment for opioid use disorder. Journal of substance use and addiction treatment. 2023 Jul 1; 150:209055.

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INTRODUCTION: Patients who discontinue methadone for opioid use disorder are at increased risk of overdose and death. We know little about how patients make the decision to stop treatment. This study explored reasons why patients discontinue methadone treatment. METHODS: We conducted 20 individual semi-structured patient interviews and two staff focus groups, each with five participants, at two opioid treatment programs in Baltimore, MD, in the United States from June 2021 to May 2022. Patient interviews and staff focus groups covered three domains: 1) reasons why patients may want to discontinue methadone; 2) perspectives about the ideal length of methadone treatment; and 3) changes that could improve retention. We used a modified grounded theory approach to code interviews, identify emergent themes, and develop a conceptual model. RESULTS: We identified three themes related to patients' internal relationships to methadone: patients (1) viewed methadone as a bridge to opioid-free recovery, (2) believed that long-term methadone damages the body, and (3) felt that methadone increases craving for cocaine; and three themes related to their external relationships with opioid treatment programs and society at large: patients (4) viewed daily dosing as burdensome, (5) feared methadone inaccessibility could trigger relapse, and (6) experienced stigma from friends, family, and peers. Patients with internal reasons planned to stop as soon as possible and asked for education about perceived side effects and treatment for cocaine craving to promote retention. Patients with external reasons were willing to continue for longer and asked for adaptive take-home policies and reduced societal stigma around methadone. CONCLUSIONS: Patients want to discontinue methadone either because of their internal relationship to methadone and its real or perceived side effects, or because of their external experiences with opioid treatment programs and societal stigma of methadone. To improve retention, clinical and policy changes should consider responses to both of these categories of reasons.

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