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Implants and depot injections for treating opioid dependence: qualitative study of people who use or have used heroin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
JournalDrug and alcohol dependence
Issue number1
Early online date25 May 2018
Accepted/In press24 May 2018
E-pub ahead of print25 May 2018
Published1 Aug 2018


King's Authors


Long-acting opioid pharmacotherapy (OPT) is presumed to offer benefits over more conventional OPT formulations. This paper analyzes the views and experiences of people who use or have used heroin in order to explore two novel systems for delivering long-acting OPT: implants and depot injections. New materialism theorizing is used to interpret and frame the findings.

Qualitative data were generated via seven focus groups conducted during 2017 in London, UK. Participants (n = 44; 28 men and 16 women; ages 33–66 years) had all received OPT. Focus group discussions covered real and potential OPT delivery systems. All participant data relating to implants and depot injections were coded using MAXQDA software and analysed inductively via Iterative Categorisation.

Participants discussed implants and depot injections in terms of interacting physical, psychological and social factors: dose stability; OPT administration; stopping treatment; co-presence of an antagonist; breaking rituals and habits; reduced choice and control; feeling normal; information needs; getting on with everyday life; and social interaction. Participants identified both benefits and concerns, and variable needs and preferences, with respect to each delivery system.

Implants and depot injections are not ‘fixed’ medications that can be administered to people to achieve pre-determined treatment aims. Rather, they are complex ‘assemblages’ with uncertain outcomes. Furthermore, they are themselves part of wider interactive ‘assemblages’. Drug developers and treatment providers need to understand this complexity in order to target long-acting OPT at people most likely to benefit from it, and to reduce any unintended negative consequences.

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