Feasibility and acceptability of a digital health intervention to promote engagement in and adherence to medication for opioid use disorder

J Subst Abuse Treat. 2021 Dec;131:108538. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2021.108538. Epub 2021 Jun 16.


Background: Buprenorphine-naloxone is an evidence-based treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD). Despite its efficacy, nearly half of patients discontinue treatment prematurely. Novel intervention strategies that may be delivered outside of traditional treatment settings are needed to support buprenorphine uptake and maintenance. The goal of this study was to elucidate key elements surrounding the acceptability/feasibility and structure of an interactive computer- and text message-delivered personalized feedback intervention for adults initiating outpatient buprenorphine treatment.

Methods: Twenty-four adults engaged in treatment at two outpatient addiction treatment centers completed semistructured interviews exploring preferences around digital health interventions. Trained interviewers conducted interviews, the study audio-recorded them, and a professional agency transcribed them verbatim. The research team iteratively developed a coding structure using thematic and content analysis and entered it into a framework matrix. The team double coded each transcript.

Results: The sample was balanced by gender, primary type of opioid use (prescription pills; heroin/fentanyl), and phase of recovery [early (≤8 weeks of treatment) vs. late (>8 weeks of treatment)]. The study reached saturation after 24 interviews (mean age = 38.9; 70.8% white; 8.3% Hispanic/Latino). (1) Acceptability/feasibility themes: A computer- and text message-based intervention that incorporates a motivational- and distress tolerance-based framework is highly acceptable. Presentation of material, including the length of the intervention, is effective in facilitating learning. The center should offer the intervention to individuals entering treatment and they should have the flexibility to complete the intervention at the center or in private from their own home. The use of technology for intervention delivery helps to overcome fears of judgment stemming from stigmatizing experiences. (2) Structural themes: The text message intervention should deliver both predetermined (automatic) and on demand messages. Two to three messages per day (morning and early evening), with the option to elicit additional messages as needed, would be ideal. The messages must be personalized. Incorporating multimedia such as emojis, gifs, and links to videos will increase interactivity.

Conclusions: Overall, adults engaged in outpatient buprenorphine treatment were receptive to an interactive computer- and text messaged-delivered personalized feedback intervention to support recovery. Incorporating thematic results on suggested structural changes may increase the usability of this intervention to improve treatment outcomes by reducing illicit opioid use, increasing adherence/retention, and preventing future overdose and other complications of illicit opioid use.

Keywords: Buprenorphine; Digital health; Opioid use disorder; mHealth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Buprenorphine* / therapeutic use
  • Buprenorphine, Naloxone Drug Combination / therapeutic use
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Humans
  • Medication Adherence
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / drug therapy


  • Buprenorphine, Naloxone Drug Combination
  • Buprenorphine