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BMJ Clin Evid. 2009 Jul 24;2009. pii: 1015.

Opioid dependence.

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Avon and Wessex Deanery, Avon and Wiltshire NHS Mental Health Partnership, Bristol, UK.



Dependence on opioids is a multifactorial condition involving genetic and psychosocial factors. There are three approaches to treating opioid dependence. Stabilisation is usually by opioid substitution treatments, and aims to ensure that the drug use becomes independent of mental state (such as craving and mood) and independent of circumstances (such as finance and physical location). The next stage is to withdraw (detox) from opioids. The final aim is relapse prevention.


We conducted a systematic review and aimed to answer the following clinical questions: What are the effects of drug treatments for stabilisation (maintenance) in people with opioid dependence? What are the effects of drug treatments for withdrawal in people with opioid dependence? What are the effects of drug treatments for relapse prevention in people with opioid dependence? We searched: Medline, Embase, The Cochrane Library, and other important databases up to May 2008 (Clinical Evidence reviews are updated periodically; please check our website for the most up-to-date version of this review). We included harms alerts from relevant organisations such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).


We found 23 systematic reviews, RCTs, or observational studies that met our inclusion criteria. We performed a GRADE evaluation of the quality of evidence for interventions.


In this systematic review, we present information relating to the effectiveness and safety of the following interventions: buprenorphine; clonidine; lofexidine; methadone; naltrexone; and ultra-rapid withdrawal regimes.

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