Background: For over 50 years, methadone has been prescribed to opioid-dependent individuals as a pharmacological approach for alleviating the symptoms of opioid withdrawal. However, individuals prescribed methadone sometimes require additional interventions (e.g., counseling) to further improve their health. This study undertook a realist synthesis of evaluations of interventions aimed at improving the psychosocial and employment outcomes of individuals on methadone treatment, to determine what interventions work (or not) and why.
Methods: The realist synthesis method was utilized because it uncovers the processes (or mechanisms) that lead to particular outcomes, and the contexts within which this occurs. A comprehensive search process resulted in 31 articles for review. Data were extracted from the articles, and placed in four templates to assist with analysis. Data analysis was an iterative process and involved comparing and contrasting data within and across each template, and cross checking with original articles to determine key patterns in the data.
Results: For individuals on methadone, engagement with an intervention appears to be important for improved psychosocial and/or employment outcomes. The engagement process involves attendance at interventions as well as an investment in what is offered. Three intervention contexts (often in some combination) support the engagement process: a) client-centered contexts (or those where clients' psychosocial and/or employment needs/issues/skills are recognized and/or addressed); b) contexts which address clients' socio-economic conditions and needs; and, c) contexts where there are positive client-counselor and/or peer relationships. There is some evidence that sometimes ongoing engagement is necessary to maintain positive outcomes. There is also some evidence that complete abstinence from drugs (e.g., cocaine, heroin) is not necessary for engagement.
Conclusions: It is important to consider how the contexts of interventions might elicit and/or support clients' engagement. Further research is needed to explore how an individual's background (e.g., involvement with different interventions over an extended period) may influence engagement. Long-term engagement may be necessary to sustain some positive outcomes although how long is unclear and requires further research. Engagement can occur without complete abstinence from such drugs as cocaine or heroin, but additional research is required as engagement may be influenced by the extent and type of drug use.
Keywords: Client-centered; Employment outcomes; Engagement; Methadone treatment; Opiates; Opioids; Positive relationships; Psychosocial health; Realist synthesis; Socio-economic conditions.