Background Heroin-assisted treatment has been found to be effective for people with severe opioid dependence who are not interested in or do poorly on methadone maintenance.
Aims To study heroin-assisted treatment in people on methadone who continue intravenous heroin and in those who are heroin dependent but currently not in treatment.
Method In an open-label multicentre randomised controlled trial, 1015 people with heroin dependence received a variable dose of injectable heroin (n=515) or oral methadone (n=500) for 12 months. Two response criteria, improvement of physical and/or mental health and decrease in illicit drug use, were evaluated in an intent-to-treat analysis.
Results Retention was higher in the heroin (67.2%) than in the methadone group (40.0%) and the heroin group showed a significantly greater response on both primary outcome measures. More serious adverse events were found in the heroin group, and were mainly associated with intravenous use.
Conclusions Heroin-assisted treatment is more effective for people with opioid dependence who continue intravenous heroin while on methadone maintenance or who are not enrolled in treatment. Despite a higher risk, it should be considered for treatment resistance under medical supervision.
- © 2007 Royal College of Psychiatrists