- Addictive Properties
- Causes of Death
- Diversion of Prescription Drugs
- Heroin Assisted Treatment
- Opioid Crisis
- Pain Management
- Supervised Consumption Facilities
- Syringe Service Programs
Page last updated June 9, 2020 by Doug McVay, Editor/Senior Policy Analyst.
31. 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.
32. Naloxone As Overdose Prevention
"The heart of the challenge is the possibility that things could be different: overdose is a public health problem that can be solved. Unlike many of the other leading causes of death, death from opioid overdose is almost entirely preventable,21 and preventable at a low cost.22 Opioids kill by depressing respiration, a slow mode of death that leaves plenty of time for effective medical intervention.23 Overdose is rapidly reversed by the administration of a safe and inexpensive drug called naloxone. Naloxone strips clean the brain’s opioid receptors and reverses the respiratory depression causing almost immediate withdrawal.24 A growing number of harm reduction organizations in the United States are offering overdose prevention programs that provide injection drug users with resuscitation training and take-home doses of naloxone.25"
Burris, Scott; Beletsky, Leo; Castagna, Carolyn; Coyle, Casey; Crowe, Colin; and McLaughlin, Jennie Maura, "Stopping an Invisible Epidemic: Legal Issues in the Provision of Naloxone to Prevent Opioid Overdose," Drexel Law Review (Philadelphia, PA: Earle Mack School of Law, Spring 2009), Vol. 1, Number 2, p. 277.
33. Rapid Effect of Naloxone
"Heroin is particularly toxic because of high lipid solubility, which allows it to cross the blood–brain barrier within seconds and achieve high brain levels.10
Etherington, Jeremy; Christenson, James; Innes, Grant; Grafstein, Eric; Pennington, Sarah; Spinelli, John J.; Gao, Min; Lahiffe, Brian; Wanger, Karen; Fernandes, Christopher, "Is early discharge safe after naloxone reversal of presumed opioid overdose?" Canadian Journal of Emergency Medicine (Ottawa, ON: Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians, July 2000), p. 160.
34. Barriers to Naloxone Access
"A more prosaic, but no less important, legal barrier to widespread naloxone access is the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) classification of naloxone as a prescription drug. This means that public health and harm reduction agencies cannot distribute naloxone like condoms or sterile syringes. Instead, naloxone must be prescribed by a properly licensed health care provider after an individualized evaluation of the patient. Because health care providers have to be involved, naloxone programs must deal with concerns about liability, which among doctors can be powerful even when they are not wellfounded in fact.31 The prescription status raises the cost of naloxone distribution and makes it illegal to give naloxone to lay people willing to administer the drug to others suffering an overdose."
Burris, Scott; Beletsky, Leo; Castagna, Carolyn; Coyle, Casey; Crowe, Colin; and McLaughlin, Jennie Maura, "Stopping an Invisible Epidemic: Legal Issues in the Provision of Naloxone to Prevent Opioid Overdose," Drexel Law Review (Philadelphia, PA: Earle Mack School of Law, Spring 2009), Vol. 1, Number 2, p. 278.
35. Benefits from Naloxone Distribution
"Naloxone distribution to heroin users would be expected to reduce mortality and be cost-effective even under markedly conservative assumptions of use, effectiveness, and cost. Although the absence of randomized trial data on naloxone distribution and reliance on epidemiologic data increase the uncertainty of results, there are few or no scenarios in which naloxone would not be expected to increase QALYs [Quality-Adjusted Life-Years] at a cost much less than the standard threshold for cost-effective health care interventions. Ecological data, in fact, suggest that naloxone distribution may have far greater benefits than those forecast in this model: Reductions in community-level overdose mortality from 37% to 90% have been seen concordant with expanded naloxone distribution in Massachusetts (7), New York City (11), Chicago (10), San Francisco (9, 67, 68), and Scotland (69). Such a result is approached in this model only by maximizing the likelihood of naloxone use or by assuming that naloxone distribution reduces the risk for any overdose. Preliminary data showing that naloxone distribution is associated with empowerment and reduced HIV risk behaviors (70, 71) suggest that future research is needed to test these hypotheses."
Coffin, Phillip O., MD, and Sullivan, Sean D. PhD, "Cost-Effectiveness of Distributing Naloxone to Heroin Users for Lay Overdose Reversal," Annals of Internal Medicine 2013 Jan 1;158(1):1-9. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-158-1-201301010-00003.