Rural opioid treatment program patient perspectives on take-home methadone policy changes during COVID-19: a qualitative thematic analysis

Ximena A. Levander, Kim A. Hoffman, John W. McIlveen, Dennis McCarty, Javier Ponce Terashima, P. Todd Korthuis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: In the United States, methadone for opioid use disorder (OUD) is highly regulated. Federal agencies announced guidelines in March 2020 allowing for relaxation of take-home methadone dispensing at opioid treatment programs (OTPs) to improve treatment access and reduce COVID-19 transmission risk during the public health emergency. We explored patient perspectives at three OTPs serving rural communities on how take-home policy changes were received and implemented and how these changes impacted their addiction treatment and recovery. Methods: We completed semi-structured individual qualitative interviews in 2 phases: (1) August–October 2020 and (2) November 2020–January 2021 (total n = 46), anticipating possible policy changes as the pandemic progressed. We interviewed patients with OUD enrolled at 3 rural OTPs in Oregon. Participants received varying take-home methadone allowances following the COVID-19-related policy changes. All interviews were conducted via phone, audio-recorded, and transcribed. We conducted a thematic analysis, iteratively coding transcripts, and deductively and inductively generating codes. Results: The 46 participants included 50% women and 89% had Medicaid insurance. Three main themes emerged in the analysis, with no differences between study phases: (1) Adapting to changing OTP policies throughout the pandemic; (2) Recognizing the benefits, and occasional struggles, with increased take-home methadone dosing; and (3) Continuing policies and procedures post-pandemic. Participants described fears and anxieties around ongoing methadone access and safety concerns prior to OTP policy changes, but quickly adapted as protocols soon seemed “natural.” The majority of participants acknowledged significant benefits to increased take-homes independent of reducing COVID-19 infection risk including feeling “more like a normal person,” improved recovery support, reduced time traveling, and having more time with family and for work. Looking to a post-pandemic future, participants thought some COVID-19-related safety protocols should continue that would reduce risk of other infections, make OTP settings less stressful, and result in more individualized care. Conclusions: As the pandemic progressed, study participants adapted to rapidly changing OTP policies. Participants noted many unanticipated benefits to increased take-home methadone and other COVID-19 protocols including strengthened self-efficacy and recovery and reduced interpersonal conflict, with limited evidence of diversion. Patient perspectives should inform future policies to better address the ongoing overdose epidemic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number72
JournalAddiction Science and Clinical Practice
Volume16
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Keywords

  • Addiction medicine
  • COVID-19
  • Methadone
  • Qualitative research
  • Rural
  • Substance-related disorder

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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