Treating heroin addiction with heroin seems viable

Wed Aug 19, 2009 5:29pm EDT
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By Gene Emery

BOSTON (Reuters) - Injections of the active ingredient of heroin work far better than oral methadone for keeping addicts in treatment, away from illegal drugs and out of trouble, Canadian researchers reported on Wednesday.

But the researchers cautioned that the treatment carries a risk of overdose and seizures, so the injections should only be done in a medical setting.

"Methadone, provided according to best-practice guidelines, should remain the treatment of choice for the majority of patients," Eugenia Oviedo-Joekes of the University of British Columbia and colleagues wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine.

But when that does not work, they said, giving heroin's active ingredient, diacetylmorphine, appears to be an effective alternative. Methadone treatment fails in 15 to 25 percent who seek care.

Oviedo-Joekes and colleagues studied 226 addicts in Montreal and Vancouver. Only 54 percent of those who got methadone stayed in treatment for a year, they found.

But 88 percent of those who got diacetylmorphine shots did. And those who got diacetylmorphine cut back on illicit drugs by 67 percent, compared to 48 percent who got methadone.

All the addicts who received diacetylmorphine spent at least 45 minutes per visit in the clinic to check for side effects. Some were there three times a day.

While three quarters of the addicts said they had engaged in non-drug-related illegal activities in the previous month, the rate dropped to 5.4 percent with methadone treatment and 0.9 percent for the diacetylmorphine recipients.   Continued...

<p>A bag of heroin and drug paraphernalia are seen at an abandoned house in Ljubljana, Slovenia, August 3, 2009. REUTERS/Bor Slana</p>