What is the efficacy of opioid agonist therapy for opioid abuse?

Updated: Jun 21, 2018
  • Author: David W Dixon, DO; Chief Editor: Glen L Xiong, MD  more...
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Several Cochrane Database Systematic Reviews about the efficacy of opioid agonist therapy have been published in recent years. While all of these reviews stress the need for larger, multicenter, randomized clinical trials of longer duration, some conclusions can be drawn from existing data.

A review of Cochrane reviews found that high-dose MMT (60-109 mg/d) is more effective in retaining patients in treatment than low-dose MMT (1-59 mg/d). Moreover, methadone at flexible doses was more effective in retaining patients in treatment (RR, 1.23) than buprenorphine. A second systematic review of databases found that low-dose methadone (20 mg/d) was less effective than buprenorphine (2-8 mg/d) and that high-dose methadone (>50-65 mg/d) was more effective than buprenorphine (2-8 mg/d).

Another Cochrane review found that oral substitution treatment was associated with significant reductions in heroin injection and needle sharing, as well as a decrease in patients with multiple sexual partners and a reduction in exchanges of sex for drugs or money. [48] Importantly, these changes were correlated with reductions in cases of HIV infection.

Although pain is common among opioid-dependent patients, pharmacologic approaches are limited. Tsui et al found that treatment with escitalopram, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, was associated with clinically meaningful reductions in pain severity and pain interference during the initial 3 months of treatment. [49]

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