According to a study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), methadone is not the most effective way to treat chronic opioid addiction. Researchers from the Center for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences (CHEOS) at Providence Health Care, University of British Columbia, Université de Montréal and the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (Sudbury, Ont.), have found that injecting an active ingredient in heroin, called diacetylmorphine, is more effective and less expensive treatment.

Even though the most prevalent treatment for opioid addition is methadone, results from studies suggest that the majority of people start using illegal drugs again over time.

Results from the North American Opiate Medication initiative, a randomized controlled trial, showed that although the cost of diacetylmorphine treatment is more expensive than methadone, patients are more likely to adhere to treatment.

The researchers used a model in order to estimate costs for both diacetylmorphine treatment and methadone treatment based on outcomes from the North American Opiate Medication Initiative. They took into consideration length of therapies, chances of HIV infection, abstinence, and relapse.

The scientists found that using diacetylmorphine for opioid addiction was a less expensive treatment option than methadone.

Based on projections from the model, they found that an individual in a methadone program would live 14.54 years, spend 8.79 years in treatment, 5.52 years in relapse and cost society an estimated $1,137,614. An individual taking diacetylmorphine treatment would live 15.43 years, spend 10.41 years in treatment, 4.05 years in relapse and cost society $1,096,053.

Dr. Aslam Anis, director of CHEOS at Providence Health Care and professor at UBC’s School of Population and Public Health, and co-authors, write:

“Our model indicated that diacetylmorphine would decrease societal costs, largely by reducing costs associated with crime, and would increase both the duration and quality of life of treatment recipients.

Because opioid users commit less crime and have lower rates of health care use and death while in treatment, the benefits in cost and health utility attributable to diacetylmorphine stemmed chiefly from its capacity to retain patients in treatment for longer periods than with methadone maintenance treatment.”

They conclude that a diacetylmorphine treatment strategy could lower costs in treating chronic opioid addiction.

Written by Grace Rattue