Depot Buprenorphine a Shot in the Arm for Opioid Addiction?

Megan Brooks

May 18, 2021

Adults in treatment for opioid dependence report high satisfaction with buprenorphine injections, in new findings that researchers say could help improve treatment and management of patients with opioid dependence.

In the DEBUT trial, patients who received weekly or monthly depot buprenorphine had significantly higher overall treatment satisfaction, reduced treatment burden, and higher quality-of-life ratings than peers who received daily treatment with sublingual buprenorphine.

"The study's focus on patient-reported outcomes (PROs) can help to better inform patients and clinicians when selecting treatment options than the clinical traditional outcomes of opioid dependence treatment studies," lead investigator Fredrik Tiberg, PhD, president and CEO of Camurus, a pharmaceutical company in Lund, Sweden, told Medscape Medical News.

"The positive patient experiences with the depot buprenorphine injection reported in the DEBUT study indicates that long-acting treatments could contribute to advancing the quality of care and access to treatment for patients with opioid dependence/use disorder," said Tiberg.

The study was published online May 10 in JAMA Network Open.

Novel Study

The study was an open-label, parallel-group randomized controlled trial that included 119 patients from six outpatient clinics in Australia; 60 received weekly or monthly depot buprenorphine and 59 received sublingual buprenorphine for 24 weeks.

The primary outcome was global treatment satisfaction, as measured by the 14-question Treatment Satisfaction Questionnaire for Medication (TSQM) at the end of the study at week 24.

The study met its primary endpoint with a significantly higher TSQM global satisfaction score among adults who received depot injections compared with those who received sublingual buprenorphine (mean score 82.5 vs 74.3; difference, 8.2; 95% CI, 1.7 - 14.6; P = .01).

Improvement was also observed for several secondary outcomes, including decreased treatment burden and higher quality of life.

The safety profile was consistent with the known safety profile of buprenorphine, aside from transient, mild-to-moderate injection site reactions.

"To our knowledge, this is the first randomized study that has used a range of PROs to compare outcomes between a long-acting injection and daily dosing of buprenorphine in the treatment of opioid dependence," the investigators note.

"The study highlights the application of PROs as alternate endpoints to traditional markers of substance use in addiction treatment outcome studies," they conclude.

Giving Patients a Voice

In an invited commentary, Nora D. Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and Wilson M. Compton, MD, deputy director of NIDA, note that the "voice of the patient" has been missing from most of the work in medication development, including for opioid use disorder.

The current study addresses this very issue in a "well designed and executed" fashion and the results "consistently demonstrated" the superiority of injectable buprenorphine across many outcomes.

The study highlights the importance of considering PRO measures in clinical trials, Volkow and Compton say.

"Even if efficacy is no different for various formulations, PROs may provide an important reason to select a new formulation. Patient preferences and apparently improved function may prove to be useful secondary outcomes in medication trials, and the measures used in this new study deserve consideration," they write.

In addition, the greater treatment satisfaction by patients receiving extended-release buprenorphine suggests that these formulations "might help to improve long-term retention and, as such, be a valuable tool to help combat the current opioid epidemic and reduce its associated mortality," they conclude.

This study was supported by Camurus AB. Tiberg is president and CEO of Camurus AB. A complete list of author disclosures is with the original article. Volkow and Compton have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

JAMA Netw Open. Published online May 10, 2021. Full text, Editorial

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