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DOCUMENT 2014 HTM file
Time limiting opioid substitution therapy
Rather than being ‘parked’ on methadone, generally Britain’s heroin-addicted patients leave too soon to fully benefit, argue official government advisers on drug policy. Their report unambiguously countered concerns within the current UK government over methadone maintenance.
Ironically, the fact that opiate substitute prescribing has been opposed and limited in Sweden has meant that country has been able provide solid evidence of its lifesaving potential. This study concluded that easing the restrictions was associated with and may have led to fewer opiate-related deaths.
The first study to synthesise the relevant evidence adds weight to the conclusion that methadone programmes protect dependent opiate injectors against HIV infection, and that the evidence in their favour is more convincing than for alternative types of treatments.
After adjusting for other influences, heroin users diagnosed as dependent at a psychiatric centre in Taiwan who started opioid substitution treatment lived nearly eight years longer than those who did not enter treatment. However, the treated group were more likely to commit suicide, usually associated with a history of depression.
Primary care methadone patients in Ireland were nearly four times more likely to die during periods out of treatment; the first few weeks after leaving were the peak risk period. The study’s support for unbroken, long-term treatment runs counter to recent UK government policy.
Trials challenge the need for the widely accepted policy of making opioid-dependent patients take their methadone or other opioid substitutes at the clinic or pharmacy, but ‘no difference’ findings may be due to the limitations of the research.
HOT TOPIC 2015 HTM file
Prescribing opiate-type drugs to opiate addicts: good sense or nonsense?
One of our hot topics offering background and analysis on important issues which sometimes generate heated debate. For decades deeply felt and at times intemperate debate has surrounded a treatment which achieves unparalleled success by going with the grain of addiction, prescribing the same type of drug which opiate-dependent patients used illegally – a substitution castigated as surrender or hailed as an enlightened lifesaver.
Buprenorphine may be associated with a lower risk of mortality than methadone among people engaged in opioid substitution treatment – but is the pattern of short treatment duration in the UK preventing maximal impact at a population level?
Based on detailed treatment records kept by the Canadian province of British Columbia, a slow taper liberally interspersed with stabilisation periods offers the best chance of sustainably withdrawing from methadone without severe relapse, but still very few manage to avoid this risk – an argument for careful consideration and informed consent before making the attempt.
How do different pathways for the treatment of problem opioid use compare under real-world conditions? For US patients with health insurance, opioid substitution therapy was associated with the greatest risk reduction. However, its protective effect may not be fully realised while federal and insurance plan restrictions continue to limit access to this treatment option.
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