Long term substitution treatment (maintenance treatment) of opioid dependent persons
KeywordsPublic aspects of medicine
Medical philosophy. Medical ethics
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AbstractHealth political background: Methadone substitution treatment in Germany is introduced in 1988 in the framework of a scientific pilot study in North Rhein Westphalia. Recent statistics show that by now a broad offer of substitution treatment exists. From 1 June 2002 to 31 December 2003 113,000 substitution treatments have been recorded as being started of which around 56,000 have been recorded as ongoing treatments by 1 December 2003. Scientific background: Substitution treatment (treatment of opioid-dependent persons using substitution substances) is one part of addiction treatment. Its goals are harm reduction and the stabilisation of opioid dependent persons. Integration of opioid-dependent persons in a treatment-setting, reduction of consumption of psychoactive substances, reduction of risk behaviour (primarily related to infectious diseases), decrease of mortality and improvements concerning the social, psychic and physic situation are seen as a success of substitution treatment as maintenance therapy. Research questions: The aim of this HTA report is to investigate which indicators can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of substitution treatment. Based on these indicators an evaluation of the medical, social and economical benefit of substitution treatment - also in relation to abstinence oriented treatment - is carried out. Methods: A systematic literature search was performed in 31 international databases which yielded 2451 articles with publication date between 1995 and February 2005. Results: After a twofold selection process 32 publications were included for assessment and 276 publications were used as background literature. Despite serious restrictions due to selection bias and dropout in most studies focusing on substitution treatment, reduction of consumption of illegal opioids, reduction of risk behaviour, criminal behaviour, mortality and incidence of HIV can be seen as an empirically proven success of substitution treatment. Concerning the improvement of life and health situation the results of the studies are contradictory. The results show that retention rate of substitution treatment is higher than retention rate of abstinence oriented treatment. Regarding economical aspects substitution treatment is efficient in avoiding secondary illnesses (infections) and decreasing criminality. From the perspective of medical ethics substitution treatment as well as medical prescription of heroin is in principle acceptable. Discussion and conclusions: Based on these results, it can be recommended that substitution treatment in principle should be made available for all opioid dependent persons. The decision whether substitution treatment or another treatment (e. g. abstinence oriented treatment) is more promising has to take into account the individual situation of the client. In addition a combination of substitution treatment and abstinence oriented treatment might be promising although there is a lack of studies about this approach. In any case the decision concerning a certain form of treatment should leave aside pseudo-moralic concerns and should be made on the base of established medical ethic principles - like the interest of the patient - taking into account the specific situation of the client.