Heroin-Assisted Treatment

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Page last updated June 9, 2020 by Doug McVay, Editor/Senior Policy Analyst.

6. Comparison of Client Satisfaction Between Those Treated With Oral Methadone Versus Injectable Heroin

"The present study determined participants’ satisfaction with received treatments in the first North American RCT [Randomized Controlled Trial] to provide injectable diacetylmorphine or hydromorphone compared to oral methadone for the treatment of long-term, treatment resistant, opioiddependency. At 3 and 12 months, participants were satisfied with the treatment received during the study period, although satisfaction was greater for those randomized to receive injectable treatments. At 3 months, participants who reported that the program met their needs were more likely to be retained at 12 months. To our knowledge this is the first study to assess treatment satisfaction among participants receiving supervised injectable diacetylmorphine or hydromorphone.

"Regardless of the outcome of the randomization, participants in the trial were highly satisfied with the treatment received. This follows previous studies which have consistently found that patients tend to report high levels of treatment satisfaction, including community health services [45], services for mental health [13], addiction [46], and opioid dependence [20]."

Marchand et al., "Client satisfaction among participants in a randomized trial comparing oral methadone and injectable diacetylmorphine for long-term opioid-dependency," BMC Health Services Research, 2011, 11:174.

7. Comparison of Client Satisfaction Between Those Treated for Opioid Dependence With Oral Methadone Versus Injectable Heroin

"Among long-term chronic opioid injectors participating in a randomized clinical trial prescribing injectable diacetylmorphine or hydromorphone and oral methadone, those receiving injectable medications were more satisfied with treatment. Independent of treatment group, treatment satisfaction was also an indicator of retention in treatment, as well as treatment response, including a reduction in substance use. As the first study in North America to provide injectable OST, these findings have valuable implications for future RCTs, which should continue to measure satisfaction in order to identify areas of improvement. These findings also provide evidence-based knowledge for good clinical practice guidelines in the treatment of chronic opioid dependence in Canada as they highlight the association between treatment satisfaction and improved treatment outcomes, particularly for those receiving more innovative treatment medications."

Marchand et al., "Client satisfaction among participants in a randomized trial comparing oral methadone and injectable diacetylmorphine for long-term opioid-dependency," BMC Health Services Research, 2011, 11:174.

8. Heroin-Assisted Treatment

"Uniquely in the United Kingdom, methadone ampoules can also be prescribed. Historically, they have at times been a substantial part of opiate substitution treatment in the United Kingdom (e.g. around 30% in the 1970s and approximately 10% in the early 1990s), but they now account for approximately 2% of all methadone prescriptions in England and Wales (Strang et al., 2007). Injectable heroin can also be prescribed in the United Kingdom to heroin addicts as an opiate treatment and has been a treatment option for over 80 years, and this has historically been important. However, over the last 30 years, this practice has become progressively rarer and now comprises less than 1% of all opiate substitution treatment in the United Kingdom. The established method of heroin prescription in the United Kingdom has been as a ‘take-away’ supply, which is then injected in an unsupervised context. In practice, few doctors have prescribed it and few patients have received it (Metrebian et al., 2002)."

European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, "EMCDDA INSIGHTS No. 11: New heroin-assisted treatment: Recent evidence and current practices of supervised injectable heroin treatment in Europe and beyond" (Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, April 2012), doi: 10.2810/50141, pp. 134-135.

9. Effectiveness of Heroin-Assisted Treatment [HAT] and Overview of Research

"A few key conclusions and discussion points regarding the state and future of HAT (heroin-assisted treatment) can be offered based on the above review of completed or ongoing studies.

"First, although the basic goal of the different HAT studies is similar, each of the studies is distinct in key aspects, thus limiting direct comparisons and meta-analyses.40 Although this might be a desirable goal for science, it should be noted that heroin addiction and its consequences occur in distinct real-life environments (including unique cultural and system factors), and interventions need to be devised, measured, and evaluated within these to have authentic relevance for policy and practice.33,41

"Second, the discussed studies above have demonstrated in several different contexts that the implementation of HAT is feasible, effective, and safe as a therapeutic intervention.21,24,26,30 This should not be seen as a conclusion that could be taken for granted because many observers expected disastrous consequences from the provision of medical heroin prescription.

"Third, even within the contexts of relevant methodological constraints, e.g., the Swiss study relying purely on prospective observational data, and most of the other RCTs comparing HAT outcomes against a control intervention (MMT), which participants have previously either rejected by choice or proven to be ineffective, 32,42 the reviewed HAT studies have demonstrated rather robust and consistently positive therapeutic outcomes on the various indicators chosen for a population of high-risk heroin addicts for whom currently no effective alternative therapies are available. Clearly, this demonstrated effectiveness is at this point limited to short-term outcomes, and long-term examinations ought to follow (albeit Swiss follow-up data present initial positive evidence in this regard).43 It may very well emerge that HAT's main long-term benefit does not materialize through life-long maintenance, but by stabilizing and readying many of its patients for other simpler therapeutic interventions or even abstinence.

"Fourth, also given the current expansion and diversification of alternative oral opioid maintenance therapies (e.g., buprenorphine and morphine) and considering the complex logistics (on both providers and patients_ ends), high costs, and sociopolitical controversy around (especially injection) HAT, the most sensible role of HAT is likely that of an exceptional 'last resort' option for heroin addicts who cannot be effectively attracted into or treated in other available therapeutic interventions.44,45 Granted the above, the primary emerging challenge for science—rather than conducting new and more HAT effectiveness studies—is to provide evidence-based guidelines on how to effectively match existing heroin addict profiles and needs with existing treatment options. This challenge has recently been complicated—in at least some jurisdictions—with the increasing diversification of heroin into poly-opioid (e.g., prescription) use profiles.46

"Finally, after extensive HAT research efforts over the past decade, the principal onus of action has shifted from the scientific to the political arena in the jurisdictions under study.12,18 Despite the overall positive results of completed HAT trials undoubtedly justifying some role of HAT in the addiction treatment landscape, authorities in only two countries, Switzerland and the Netherlands, have decisively acted on this issue.34"

Benedikt Fischer, Eugenia Oviedo-Joekes, Peter Blanken, Christian Haasen, Jurgen Rehm, Martin T. Schechter, John Strang, and Wim van den Brink, "Heroin-assisted Treatment (HAT) a Decade Later: A Brief Update on Science and Politics," Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, (2007) Vol. 84, No. 4, pp. 559-560.

10. International Drug Conventions and Heroin-Assisted Treatment

"Many countries believe (erroneously) that the international drug conventions prohibit the use of heroin in medical treatment. Furthermore, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has exerted great pressure on countries to cease prescribing heroin for any medical purpose. Nevertheless, a few countries, including the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Iceland, Malta, Canada and Switzerland, continue to use heroin (diamorphine) for general medical purposes, mostly in hospital settings (usually for severe pain relief). Until recently, however, Britain was the only country that allowed doctors to prescribe heroin for the treatment of drug dependence."

Stimson, Gerry V., and Nicky Metrebian, Centre for Research on Drugs and Health Behavior, "Prescribing Heroin: What is the Evidence?" (London, England: Rowntree Foundation, 2003), p. 4.