Peer recovery specialist-delivered, behavioral activation intervention to improve retention in methadone treatment: Results from an open-label, Type 1 hybrid effectiveness-implementation pilot trial

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Int J Drug Policy


BACKGROUND: Despite the efficacy of methadone to treat opioid use disorder (OUD), retention is an urgent priority, particularly among low-income, minoritized populations. Peer recovery specialists are well-positioned to engage vulnerable patients, particularly when trained in an evidence-based intervention to promote retention. This hybrid effectiveness-implementation pilot trial aimed to demonstrate the proof of concept of a peer recovery specialist-delivered behavioral activation and problem solving-based approach (Peer Activate) to improve methadone retention.

METHODS: Implementation outcomes included feasibility, acceptability, and fidelity. Feasibility and acceptability were defined by the percentage of participants who initiated the intervention (≥75%) and completed ≥75% of core sessions, respectively. Fidelity was assessed via independent rating of a randomly selected 20% of sessions. The primary effectiveness outcome was methadone retention at three-months post-intervention vs. a comparison cohort initiating methadone during the same time period. Secondary outcomes included methadone adherence, substance use frequency, and substance use-related problems.

RESULTS: Benchmarks for feasibility and acceptability were surpassed: 86.5% (32/37) initiated the intervention, and 81.3% of participants who initiated attended ≥75% of core sessions. The mean independent rater fidelity score was 87.9%, indicating high peer fidelity. For effectiveness outcomes, 88.6% of participants in Peer Activate were retained in methadone treatment at three-months post-intervention-28.9% higher than individuals initiating methadone treatment alone in the same time period [χ(2)(1) = 10.10, p = 0.001]. Among Peer Activate participants, urine-verified methadone adherence reached 97% at post-intervention, and there was a significant reduction in substance use frequency from 48% of past two-week days used at baseline to 31.9% at post-intervention [t(25) = 1.82, p = .041]. Among participants who completed the core Peer Activate sessions (n = 26), there was a significant reduction in substance use-related problems [t(21) = 1.84, p = 0.040].

CONCLUSION: Given the rapid scale-up of peer recovery specialist programs nationwide and the urgent need to promote methadone retention, these results, although preliminary, have important potential clinical significance. The next steps are to conduct a Type 1 hybrid effectiveness-implementation randomized trial with a larger sample size and longer-term follow-up to further establish the implementation and effectiveness of the Peer Activate approach.

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