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Subjective effects of prisoners using buprenorphine for detoxification

Alexander Johnstone (Associate Lecturer in the Centre for Alcohol & Drug Studies, University of the West of Scotland, Paisley, UK)
Tim Duffy (Research and International Project Manager, School of Health, Nursing and Midwifery, University of the West of Scotland, Paisley, UK)
Colin Martin (Chair in Mental Health, both in the School of Health, Nursing and Midwifery, University of the West of Scotland, Paisley, UK)

International Journal of Prisoner Health

ISSN: 1744-9200

Article publication date: 17 August 2011




Buprenorphine (Subutex) was piloted in two Scottish prisons between 2004 and 2006 and consequently used within other penal establishments in Scotland. This 2007 qualitative study aimed to explore the use of Subutex and its associated effects on 14 participants on detoxification programmes.


All participants were male, aged from 21 to 44 years with prison sentences ranging from a few months to life imprisonment. Buprenorphine was unavailable to female prisoners at the time of this study. Participants were recruited from seven Scottish prisons. All 14 participants were on detoxification programmes, each was prescribed Subutex, and each was selected from a larger investigation that included both those undergoing detoxification and maintenance (n=21). All participants had previously also used methadone on previous detoxification programmes.


It can be concluded that the majority of detoxification participants within this study indicated that Subutex was a more effective treatment than methadone as it helped reduce craving, eased the process of withdrawal and improved sleeping patterns. In addition, the majority of participants noted higher levels of motivation and the ability to set goals towards obtaining an improved quality of life.


This study provides an alternative perspective to the use of Subutex within prison settings, when compared with results from previous quantitative studies reported. The study also highlights inconsistencies drawn from studies in this area, which may be an artefact of study design. It is recommended that further qualitative studies be conducted to explore further this alternative perspective. Finally, the issue of methodological approach taken should be addressed within the context of a related, but independent, research forum.



Johnstone, A., Duffy, T. and Martin, C. (2011), "Subjective effects of prisoners using buprenorphine for detoxification", International Journal of Prisoner Health, Vol. 7 No. 4, pp. 52-65.



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Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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