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J Subst Abuse Treat. 2013 Jan;44(1):97-102. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2012.04.003. Epub 2012 Jun 15.

Medically assisted recovery from opiate dependence within the context of the UK drug strategy: methadone and Suboxone (buprenorphine-naloxone) patients compared.

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Centre for Drug Misuse Research, 19 Keith Street, Glasgow, G11 6QQ.


The focus of drug policy in the UK has shifted markedly in the past 5 years to move beyond merely emphasising drug abstinence towards maximising individuals' opportunities for recovery. The UK government continues to recognise the prescribing of narcotic medications indicated for opiate dependence as a key element of these individuals' recovery journey. This article describes a small, naturalistic comparison of the efficacy of the two most commonly prescribed opiate substitute medications in the UK--methadone hydrochloride (methadone oral solution) and Suboxone (buprenorphine-naloxone sublingual tablets)--for reducing current heroin users' (n = 34) days of heroin use, and preventing short-term abstainers (n = 37) from relapsing to regular heroin use. All patients had been prescribed either methadone or Suboxone for maintenance for 6 months prior to intake. Results showed that when controlling for a number of patient-level covariates, both methadone and Suboxone significantly reduced current users' days of heroin use between the 90 days prior to intake and at the 8-month follow-up, with Suboxone yielding a significantly larger magnitude reduction in heroin use days than methadone. Methadone and Suboxone were highly and equally effective for preventing relapse to regular heroin use, with all but 3 of 37 (91.9%) patients who were abstinent at intake reporting past 90-day point prevalence heroin abstinence at the 8-month follow-up. Overall, prescribing methadone or Suboxone for eight continuous months was highly effective for initiating abstinence from heroin use, and for converting short-term abstinence to long-term abstinence. However, the study design, which was based on a relatively small sample size and was not able randomise patients to medication and so could not control for the effects of potential prognostic factors inherent within each patient group, means that these conclusions can only be made tentatively. These positive but preliminary indications of the comparative efficacy of methadone and Suboxone for treating opiate dependence now require replication in a well-powered, randomised controlled trial.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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