Methadone maintenance treatment in China: perceived challenges from the perspectives of service providers and patients

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BackgroundChina has recently adopted methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) as a national strategy to address the problem of drug abuse and related public health issues such as HIV and HCV infections. However, low enrollment and retention rates suggest that barriers may exist in MMT utilization. This study examined both patients’ perceptions and service providers’ perceptions of challenges in MMT implementation in China.MethodsFour focus groups were conducted in two Chinese cities, Shanghai and Kunming, to explore the perceived and experienced barriers in MMT participation in China. All focus group discussions with participants were audio taped and transcribed. Atlas.ti 5.1 was used to analyze data.ResultsService providers and patient participants reported positive experiences (e.g. effects of MMT in curbing withdrawal symptoms) but also expressed concerns about side effects and continued heroin use during MMT. They also identified barriers in participating and remaining in MMT, including affordability (fee requirement), acceptability (methadone as a substitution, dose, long-term nature), accommodation and accessibility (inconvenient operation hours, lack of transferability to other MMT clinics during travel) and competition between public health and public security.ConclusionsThe present findings have implications for reconsidering the current MMT policies and practices in order to improve access, utilization and, ultimately, the effectiveness of MMT in China.

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