Research shines a light on patients’ experiences of a new treatment for opioid dependence
A recent study led by Turning Point at Monash University and The University of Sydney, has found that a new treatment for opioid dependence, long-acting injectable buprenorphine, may have a range of benefits for patients and be particularly relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Opioid dependence remains a significant public health issue leading to mortality and overdose harms in Australia and across the globe. Whilst there is a growing body of evidence that long-acting injectable buprenorphine delivered via a weekly or monthly injection is effective to treat opioid dependence, how patients experienced it was uncertain.
In this world-first study, published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers conducted interviews with 30 patients in Victoria and New South Wales who had recently been prescribed long-acting injectable buprenorphine.
Many patients described benefits including: opportunities to avoid stigma experienced at pharmacies or clinics by not having to attend daily; time to engage in other activities (e.g., travel, work, study, caregiving) by releasing participants from previous strict treatment regimens; and, cost savings by not having to pay pharmacy fees associated with daily dosing.
“It’s absolutely freed up so much of my time and I’m not tied to the clinic. I feel like I’ve got more control over my life which is a good thing,” said Justine* who had recently been prescribed long-acting injectable buprenorphine.
However, for some patients who were particularly marginalised, moving to long-acting injectable buprenorphine disrupted engagements with important social/practical supports available at pharmacies/clinics, and constrained their control over their own dosing.
The findings indicate that whilst long-acting injectable buprenorphine has benefits for many patients, some will require extra support when moving onto this new treatment. Taking a patient-centred approach in the clinical decision-making process about whether long-acting injectable buprenorphine is the right treatment option remains important.
Turning Point Director and addiction psychiatrist, Professor Dan Lubman, states: “This new treatment option is a real game-changer for so many patients, freeing them up to work, study and travel, and reducing the level of stigma experienced. However, we need to make sure that those who need additional support are not disadvantaged.”
*Pseudonyms are used to protect the identity of participants