Tailoring a brief intervention for illicit drug use and alcohol use in Irish methadone maintained opiate dependent patients: a qualitative process

BMC Psychiatry. 2016 Nov 3;16(1):373. doi: 10.1186/s12888-016-1082-4.


Background: The World Health Organization (WHO) recommend the tailoring of a brief intervention (BI) programme of research to ensure that it is both culturally and contextually appropriate for the country and the environment in which it is being tested. The majority of BI research has been conducted with non-opioid dependent participants. The current study developed a tailored BI for illicit drug use and alcohol use to a methadone maintained opioid dependent polydrug using cohort of patients.

Methods: Focus groups with staff and one-to-one qualitative interviews with patients guided the tailoring of all intervention materials for use in a subsequent cluster randomised controlled trial (RCT). This was done to make them contextually appropriate to an opioid dependent cohort and culturally appropriate to Ireland. Thematic analyses were utilised.

Results: The BI was modified to ensure its compatibility with the culture of an Irish drug using population, with elements of motivational interviewing (MI) and personalised feedback incorporated. Example scripts of a screening and BI were included, as was an algorithm to facilitate clinicians during a session. Modifications to the 'Substance Use Risk' cards included weighting the severity of the problems, writing the language in the first person to personalise the feedback and including tick boxes so as to further highlight the relevant risk factors for individual patients. Photographs of key risk factors were included to display pictorially risks for illiterate or semi-literate patients. Examples of the interaction of particular substances with methadone were of particular importance to this group. Modifications of the 'Pros and Cons of Substance Use/Reasons to Quit or Cut Down' included additional categories such as addiction, crime and money that were salient to this cohort. The manual was used to standardise training across trial sites.

Conclusion: The research team was faithful to WHO recommendations to tailor BI programmes that are culturally and contextually appropriate to the treatment cohort and clinical environment. Outcome data from the cluster RCT have demonstrated that the tailored intervention was effective.

Keywords: Alcohol; Brief intervention; Focus group; Illicit substances; Methadone; Opioid dependent; Qualitative; Randomised controlled trial; Semi-structured interview; Tailored.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / prevention & control*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Culturally Competent Care
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs
  • Ireland / ethnology
  • Male
  • Methadone / therapeutic use*
  • Motivational Interviewing / methods*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / ethnology
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / therapy*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Risk Factors


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Illicit Drugs
  • Methadone