Patients’ experiences of continued treatment with extended-release naltrexone: a Norwegian qualitative study
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionAddiction science & clinical practice. 2022, 17, 36. 10.1186/s13722-022-00317-2
Background The opioid antagonist extended-release naltrexone (XR-NTX) in the treatment of opioid use disorder (OUD) is effective in terms of safety, abstinence from opioid use and retention in treatment. However, it is unclear how patients experience and adjust to losing the possibility of achieving an opioid effect. This qualitative study is the first to explore how people with opioid dependence experience XR-NTX treatment, focusing on the process of treatment over time. Methods Using a purposive sampling strategy, semi-structured interviews were undertaken with 19 persons with opioid use disorder (15 men, four women, 22–55 years of age) participating in a clinical trial of XR-NTX in Norway. The interviewees had received at least three XR-NTX injections. Qualitative content analysis with an inductive approach was used. Findings Participants described that XR-NTX treatment had many advantages. However they still faced multiple challenges, some of which they were not prepared for. Having to find a new foothold and adapt to no longer gaining an effect from opioids due to the antagonist medication was challenging. This was especially true for those struggling emotionally and transitioning into the harmful use of non-opioid substances. Additional support was considered crucial. Even so, the treatment led to an opportunity to participate in society and reclaim identity. Participants had strong goals for the future and described that XR-NTX enabled a more meaningful life. Expectations of a better life could however turn into broken hopes. Although participants were largely optimistic about the future, thinking about the end of treatment could cause apprehension. Conclusions XR-NTX treatment offers freedom from opioids and can facilitate the recovery process for people with OUD. However, our findings also highlight several challenges associated with XR-NTX treatment, emphasizing the importance of monitoring emotional difficulties and increase of non-opioid substances during treatment. As opioid abstinence in itself does not necessarily equal recovery, our findings underscore the importance of seeing XR-NTX as part of a comprehensive, individualized treatment approach.