The Kyrgyz Republic (Kyrgyzstan) is one of few countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia to provide methadone within its prisons, but uptake of this program has been suboptimal, in part because methadone uptake may have personal or social risks and consequences. Decision aids are evidence-based strategies that are designed to inform the patient’s choice by objectively providing information that incorporates patient preferences.
We conducted qualitative interviews in Kyrgyz and Russian with currently and formerly incarcerated people (n = 36) in Kyrgyzstan from October 2016 to September 2018. Interviews explored factors influencing methadone utilization in prisons. Transcripts were coded by five researchers using content analysis. A secondary thematic analysis was conducted to determine factors specific to initiation or continuation of methadone treatment in prisons.
We identified six interrelated themes affecting an individual’s decision to initiate or continue methadone treatment: 1) informal prison governance (incarcerated people governing themselves); 2) informal prison economy; 3) perceived and objective benefits of methadone treatment; 4) perceived and objective side effects of methadone treatment; 5) distrust of formal prison administration (medical and correctional staff); and 6) desire for a “cure” from addiction.
Respondents’ perceptions about benefits, side effects, and addiction as a curable disease are not consistent with the available evidence. An evidence-based, informed decision-making aid would need to address the six themes identified here, of which several are specific to the Kyrgyz prison context. Unlike decision aids elsewhere, the unique aspects of incarceration itself alongside the informal governance system strongly present within Kyrgyz prisons will need to be incorporated into decisional processes to promote HIV prevention and treatment in a region with high rates of HIV transmission and mortality.

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