Background: Patients receiving buprenorphine for the treatment of opioid use disorder (OUD) experience a roughly 50% reduction in mortality risk relative to those not receiving medication. Longer periods of treatment are also associated with improved clinical outcomes. Despite this, patients often express desires to discontinue treatment and some view taper as treatment success. Little is known about the beliefs and medication perspectives of patients engaged in long-term buprenorphine treatment that may underlie motivations to discontinue.
Methods: This study was conducted at the VA Portland Health Care System (2019-2020). Qualitative interviews were conducted with participants prescribed buprenorphine for ≥2 years. Coding and analysis were guided by directed qualitative content analysis.
Results: Fourteen patients engaged in office-based buprenorphine treatment completed interviews. While patients expressed strong enthusiasm for buprenorphine as a medication, the majority expressed the desire to discontinue, including patients actively tapering. Motivations to discontinue fell into 4 categories. First, patients were troubled by perceived side effects of the medication, including effects on sleep, emotion, and memory. Second, patients expressed unhappiness with being "dependent" on buprenorphine, framed in opposition to personal strength/independence. Third, patients expressed stigmatized beliefs about buprenorphine, describing it as "illicit," and associated with past drug use. Finally, patients expressed fears about buprenorphine unknowns, including potential long-term health effects and interactions with medications required for surgery.
Conclusions: Despite recognizing benefits, many patients engaged in long-term buprenorphine treatment express a desire to discontinue. Findings from this study may help clinicians anticipate patient concerns and can be used to inform shared decision-making conversations regarding buprenorphine treatment duration.
Keywords: buprenorphine; opioid-related disorders; veterans.