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Methadone Maintenance vs. 180-Day Psychosocially Enriched Detoxification for Treatment of Opioid Dependence: A Randomized Controlled Trial

NCJ Number
Journal of the American Medical Association Volume: 283 Issue: 10 Dated: 2000 Pages: 1303-1310
Karen L. Sees; Kevin L. Delucchi; Carmen Masson; et al
Date Published
8 pages

This study compared outcomes for patients with opioid dependence treated with methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) compared with an alternative treatment, psychosocially enriched 180-day methadone-assisted detoxification.


Despite evidence that methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) is effective for opioid dependence, it remains a controversial therapy because of its indefinite provision of a dependence-producing medication. The current evaluation involved a randomized controlled trial conducted from May 1995 to April 1999. The MMT was administered by a research clinic with an established drug treatment service. Of 858 volunteers screened, 179 adults with diagnosed opioid dependence were randomized into the study; 154 completed 12 weeks of follow-up. Patients were randomized to MMT (n = 91), which required 2 hours of psychosocial therapy per week during the first 6 months; or detoxification (n = 88), which required 3 hours of psychosocial therapy per week, 14 education sessions, and 1 hour of cocaine group therapy, if appropriate, for 6 months, and 6 months of (non-methadone) aftercare services. Main outcome measures were treatment retention, heroin and cocaine abstinence (by self-report and monthly urinalysis), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) risk behaviors (Risk of AIDS Behavior scale score), and functioning in five problem areas: employment, family, psychiatric, legal, and alcohol use (Addiction Severity Index), compared by intervention group. The study found that methadone maintenance therapy resulted in greater treatment retention (median, 438.5 vs 174.0 days) and lower heroin use rates than did detoxification. Cocaine use was more closely related to study dropout in detoxification than in MMT. Methadone maintenance therapy resulted in a lower rate of drug-related (mean [SD] at 12 months, 2.17 [3.88] vs 3.73 [6.86]) but not sex-related HIV risk behaviors and in a lower severity score for legal status (mean [SD] at 12 months, 0.05 [0.13] vs 0.13 [0.19]). There were no differences between groups in employment or family functioning or alcohol use. In both groups, monthly heroin use rates were 50 percent or greater, but days of use per month dropped markedly from baseline. These results confirm the usefulness of MMT in reducing heroin use and HIV risk behaviors. Illicit opioid use continued in both groups, but frequency was reduced. Results do not provide support for diverting resources from MMT into long-term detoxification. 4 figures, 2 tables, and 27 references (publisher abstract modified)