Struggling to achieve a ‘normal life’: A qualitative study of Vietnamese methadone patients

BACKGROUND: Methadone maintenance treatment, initially introduced in Vietnam for HIV harm reduction, has marked a significant switch in the country’s drug policy – from addiction as a moral issue to addiction as a brain disease. After the some initial outstanding achievements, the programme is facing a high dropout rate that threatens both goals of HIV prevention and drug treatment. This sociological study, as part of an HIV intervention research project, explores the challenges and opportunities that individuals who use drugs are faced with in relation to addiction treatment.

METHODS: A qualitative study among drug users with and without methadone maintenance treatment experiences recruited by peer outreach workers. We conducted 58 in-depth interviews and 2 focus groups between 2016 and 2017.

RESULTS: The start of treatment brought about significant feelings of success as heroin use was no longer compulsive. However, being in treatment programmes is also challenging with respect to continuing the recovery process. Barriers to retention include a popular fear of methadone as another harmful drug, a feeling of dependence related to the current practices of methadone treatment programmes and a poor therapeutic relationship. In the face of such challenges, the two major motivations that keep patients in care come from the desire to completely break up with heroin and the pursuit of family happiness.

CONCLUSION: The current practices of methadone programmes pose challenges to patients’ recovery efforts from addiction and threaten treatment retention. Prompt interventions are needed to help Vietnam attain its objective of providing better care for larger vulnerable populations.

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Full citation:
Nguyen TT, Luong AN, Thanh NTT, Chauvin C, Feelemyer J, Nagot N, Des Jarlais D, Giang LM, Jauffret-Roustide M (2019).
Struggling to achieve a ‘normal life’: A qualitative study of Vietnamese methadone patients
International Journal of Drug Policy, 68, 18-26. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2019.03.026. PMCID: PMC6535358.