A qualitative investigation of addiction counselors' perceptions and experiences implementing an open-access model for treating opioid use disorder

J Subst Abuse Treat. 2021 Feb;121:108191. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2020.108191. Epub 2020 Nov 2.


Objective: To examine addiction counselors' perceptions and experiences of implementing an open-access model for methadone maintenance treatment (MMT), in which the program rapidly enrolled prospective patients, irrespective of ability to pay, and provided real-time access to multiple voluntary treatment options. Between 2006, when the treatment program initially implemented this model, and 2020, the census of clients receiving methadone maintenance at the study site grew from 1431 to 4500.

Methods: Participants were 31 addiction counselors employed at a treatment organization that implemented an open-access model to scale up MMT. We examined counselors' perceptions and experiences of working in programs that employed this model, using individual semi-structured interviews, which an interdisciplinary team audiotaped, transcribed, and systematically coded using grounded theory. The team reviewed themes and reconciled disagreements (rater agreement was 98%). We describe themes that more than 10% of participants reported.

Results: Counselors described perceived advantages of the open-access model for clients (e.g., "individualized to client needs"), clinicians (e.g., "fewer demands"), and the community (e.g., "crime reduced"). Counselors also described perceived disadvantages of the open-access model for clinicians (e.g., "uneven workload") and clients (e.g., "need for more intensive services for some clients"), as well as program-level concerns (e.g., "perceived lack of structure").

Conclusions: Counselors who work in opioid treatment programs that use an open-access framework described multiple benefits to themselves, their clients, and the public; they also outlined disadvantages for themselves and clients, which research should further explore and address to facilitate MMT scale up.

Keywords: Counselor; Drug treatment center; Methadone; Opioid-related disorder; Scale up.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Counselors / psychology*
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methadone / therapeutic use*
  • Middle Aged
  • Opiate Substitution Treatment / methods*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / therapy*
  • Perception
  • Prospective Studies
  • Qualitative Research


  • Methadone