Patient perspectives on choosing buprenorphine over methadone in an urban, equal-access system

Jan Gryczynski, Jerome H Jaffe, Robert P Schwartz, Kristi A Dušek, Nishan Gugsa, Cristin L Monroe, Kevin E O'Grady, Yngvild K Olsen, Shannon Gwin Mitchell
American Journal on Addictions 2013, 22 (3): 285-91

BACKGROUND: Recent policy initiatives in Baltimore City, MD significantly reduced access disparities between methadone and buprenorphine in the publicly funded treatment sector.

OBJECTIVES: This study examines reasons for choosing buprenorphine over methadone among patients with access to both medications.

METHOD: This study was embedded within a larger clinical trial conducted at two outpatient substance abuse treatment programs offering buprenorphine. Qualitative and quantitative data on treatment choice were collected for new patients starting buprenorphine treatment (n = 80). The sample consisted of predominantly urban African American (94%) heroin users who had prior experience with non-prescribed street buprenorphine (85%), and opioid agonist treatment (68%). Qualitative data were transcribed and coded for themes, while quantitative data were analyzed using descriptive and bivariate statistics.

RESULTS: Participants typically conveyed their choice of buprenorphine treatment as a decision against methadone. Buprenorphine was perceived as a helpful medication while methadone was perceived as a harmful narcotic with multiple unwanted physical effects. Positive experiences with non-prescribed "street buprenorphine" were a central factor in participants' decisions to seek buprenorphine treatment.

CONCLUSIONS: Differences in service structure between methadone and buprenorphine did not strongly influence treatment-seeking decisions in this sample. Personal experiences with medications and the street narrative surrounding them play an important role in treatment selection decisions.

SCIENTIFIC SIGNIFICANCE: This study characterizes important decision factors that underlie patients' selection of buprenorphine over methadone treatment.

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