Retention in opiate substitution treatment in Ireland: A mixed methodologies approach

Miss Aisling O' Connor

PhD Student

PhD Candidate at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland

Aisling O’ Connor is a 2nd year StAR PhD candidate in the division of Population Health Science at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.  She studied Occupational Therapy (BSc Hons) at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh. Following this she spent three years working in homeless services and studied Applied Social Research (MSc) in Trinity College, Dublin.  Aisling was then awarded a StAR PhD scholarship in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in the subject of treatment cessation and retention of methadone users in Ireland. Her supervisor is Dr. Grainne Cousins (RCSI) and her co-supervisors are Dr. Fiona Boland (RCSI) and Professor Joe Barry (TCD).



People who inject heroin have a risk of death six times higher than the general population. The most effective treatment for heroin users is the prescription of legal substitution of drugs, most commonly methadone in the Republic of Ireland. This is called opiate or methadone substitution treatment (MST). Heroin addiction has been characterized as a chronic relapsing condition, where patients cycle in and out of treatment relapsing to heroin use. Recent studies have consistently shown that patients are at greatest risk of dying when they leave treatment. Patients may leave treatment for a variety of reasons such as drug relapse, imprisonment and becoming tired of methadone treatment. This PhD project aims to understand the complexity of treatment cessation, by identify factors which lead to a patient leaving treatment and also factors which promote staying in treatment. This will be achieved through an in-depth analysis of retention in methadone substitution treatment across four studies, identifying both risk factors for treatment cessation and protective factors for retention using a mixed methods study design. The four studies to be conducted will be as follows: a systematic review of previous studies conducted an examination of trends amongst Irish MST users, and interviews of both patients and service providers to get both perspectives in relation to treatment cessation.


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