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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. (Am J Addict 2013; 22:285–291)