Nursing professor studying couples receiving opioid addiction treatment

Project focuses largely on older adults, a growing segment of substance abusers

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Assistant Professor Brandi Parker Cotton

KINGSTON, R.I., November 9, 2017 — A University of Rhode Island College of Nursing professor is studying couples receiving methadone maintenance treatment for opioid use disorder and how being in recovery together influences treatment beliefs and outcomes.

Assistant Professor Brandi Parker Cotton received a one-year grant from the American Nurses Foundation to study couple influences on methadone maintenance treatment. Cotton, who is partnering with CODAC Inc., the largest opioid treatment program in Rhode Island, is recruiting 100 couples across the state to participate in surveys conducted at the treatment locations.

“This is an exploratory study. Currently, there are no studies of couples who receive methadone treatment for opioid dependence,” Cotton said.

Each member of the couple participating in the study will meet with Cotton and answer a questionnaire Cotton is collecting data on demographics, current and past use of illegal drugs and alcohol, beliefs about methadone treatment and recovery, relationship quality, mental and physical health issues and other measures of social support resources

“Dr. Cotton is paving the way for more intensive nursing research within the field of opioid treatment, a research trajectory that is especially important and timely as our country grapples with how to best address a rising epidemic,” said Barbara Wolfe, dean of the College of Nursing.

Courtney Polenick, a life-span developmental psychologist and researcher at the University of Michigan, studies mutual influences within couples and is working with Cotton on the project. Benjamin Han, a geriatrician at New York University School of Medicine, who examines chronic disease management in older adults with opioid disorders, is also a co-investigator.

“We want to see if the couples who have more positive beliefs about methadone maintenance treatment, better relationships and feelings of confidence, have better outcomes,” Cotton explained.

She is particularly interested in participants older than 50 years of age. A recent study by Han et al (2015) found that the largest group of adults receiving Methadone Maintenance Treatment in New York City were adults 50-59 years old. As the baby boom generation ages, the number of older adults needing treatment for substance use disorders will only increase she noted. One particular problem is that Medicare does not cover methadone treatment when used to treat opioid use disorder only when it is prescribed for pain. Additionally, nursing and assisted living facilities typically will not admit residents receiving methadone, a treatment that many require indefinitely.

Cotton pointed out that most people on long-term methadone maintenance treatment live productive and fulfilling lives. Withdrawing from methadone can be difficult, however, and she hopes to one day examine ways to improve outcomes related to medically supported withdrawal from methadone for those who wish to discontinue treatment eventually.