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Heroin More Effective than Methadone in Keeping Treatment-Resistant Addicts from Street Drug Abuse

About 10% of heroin users never respond to methadone, and continue to abuse heroin while using the medication. Using supervised heroin injections as treatment seems to work a lot better.

British researchers say that heroin addicts given supervised doses of heroin twice daily are more likely to stay free from street heroin use than those taking methadone as addiction treatment.

The researchers enlisted 127 addicts for the study. The subjects had been addicted to heroin for an average of 17 years, and had been involved in methadone treatment programs for an average of 10 years. Despite involvement in methadone treatment, these users continued to abuse street heroin.

Experts say that as many as 10% of those treated with methadone continue to use heroin regularly.

For 6 months, half of the study subjects continued to use methadone and the other half received twice daily supervised injections of medical grade heroin.

The results:

  • Those using supervised heroin treatment were significantly more likely to reduce their use of street heroin than those continuing to take methadone.

Lead researcher, Professor John Strang, from the National Addiction Centre at King's College London says that the findings prove that even those heroin addicts that don’t respond to methadone treatment are reachable through heroin therapy, saying, "This is a treatment for a severe group of heroin addicts that ordinary treatments have failed…The very good news is that you can get these people on a constructive trajectory."

Strang says that policy makers should take note and implement programs, like heroin treatment, that work, saying, "Our work offers government robust evidence to support the expansion of this treatment, so that more patients can benefit. Supervised injectable heroin should now be provided, with close monitoring, for carefully selected chronic heroin addicts."

Although the scientists involved say that heroin treatment works, the stigma and politics of heroin treatment often block movement towards implementation. Dr. Thomas Kerr of the Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS commented, saying, "History tells us that availability of heroin prescription can be dictated more by special interests and politics than evidence.”

The full study results can be read in the journal, The Lancet.

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