Friday, March 2, 2018

Researchers: Supervised Methadone and Buprenorphine Dosing Adds Little Therapeutic Benefit

Methadone, the full agonist synthetic opioid, is one of the most tightly regulated medications on the planet - at least, that is, when it's being used to treat opioid addiction.  Here in Minnesota, no fewer than 5 regulatory bodies oversee the clinics that provide methadone maintenance treatment (MMT).  One of the core federal requirements of "opiate treatment programs" is daily supervised dosing, requiring patients to come daily to the clinic to receive their dose, observed by trained nursing staff for at least the first 3 months.  After that, patients earn one additional day of "take-home" doses at a time until they've earned 1 week (after the 8th month of treatment), then 2 weeks (after the first year in treatment), and finally 4 weeks of take-home doses (after 2 years of sustained participation in the program).  The rationale for these highly restrictive federal rules, ostensibly, has been that it will protect patient safety, decrease diversion, and will improve outcomes among MMT patients.

A recent review of the literature throws these assumptions into question.  The review, analyzed and shared by the folks at Drug and Alcohol Findings, found "no evidence that supervising consumption meant patients were better safeguarded or that the treatment more effectively reduced illegal drug use."  Instead, these policies tend to be quite costly to programs and burdensome to patients.  They reinforce negative stereotypes about MMT patients and have prevented people from seeking potentially lifesaving treatment. 

Here at Alltyr Clinic, we routinely hear from patients that the ability to receive a monthly prescription of Suboxone has meant they could keep their job or maintain their role within the family.  With all the national attention being given to the recent spike in overdose statistics, maybe it's time the feds re-visit these burdensome regulations and increase access to the highly effective treatments. 

From the Findings UK article:

Supervised dosing with a long-acting opioid medication in the management of opioid dependence

Key points
From summary and commentary

Guidelines recommend making opioid-dependent patients take their methadone or other opioid substitutes at the clinic or pharmacy to safeguard the patient and prevent medication being ‘diverted’ to other people.
Randomised trials and studies study which monitored patients in routine treatment afforded no evidence that supervising consumption meant patients were better safeguarded or that the treatment more effectively reduced illegal drug use.
However, introduction of supervision to UK treatment services was associated with fewer methadone-related overdose deaths.
Findings and expert opinion support initial supervised consumption and its relaxation on an individual basis, depending on assessment of the patient.

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