Anesthesia-assisted vs buprenorphine- or clonidine-assisted heroin detoxification and naltrexone induction: a randomized trial

Eric D Collins, Herbert D Kleber, Robert A Whittington, Nicole E Heitler
JAMA: the Journal of the American Medical Association 2005 August 24, 294 (8): 903-13

CONTEXT: Rapid opioid detoxification with opioid antagonist induction using general anesthesia has emerged as an expensive, potentially dangerous, unproven approach to treat opioid dependence.

OBJECTIVE: To determine how anesthesia-assisted detoxification with rapid antagonist induction for heroin dependence compared with 2 alternative detoxification and antagonist induction methods.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PATIENTS: A total of 106 treatment-seeking heroin-dependent patients, aged 21 through 50 years, were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 inpatient withdrawal treatments over 72 hours followed by 12 weeks of outpatient naltrexone maintenance with relapse prevention psychotherapy. This randomized trial was conducted between 2000 and 2003 at Columbia University Medical Center's Clinical Research Center. Outpatient treatment occurred at the Columbia University research service for substance use disorders. Patients were included if they had an American Society of Anesthesiologists physical status of I or II, were without major comorbid psychiatric illness, and were not dependent on other drugs or alcohol.

INTERVENTIONS: Anesthesia-assisted rapid opioid detoxification with naltrexone induction, buprenorphine-assisted rapid opioid detoxification with naltrexone induction, and clonidine-assisted opioid detoxification with delayed naltrexone induction.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Withdrawal severity scores on objective and subjective scales; proportions of patients receiving naltrexone, completing inpatient detoxification, and retained in treatment; proportion of opioid-positive urine specimens.

RESULTS: Mean withdrawal severities were comparable across the 3 treatments. Compared with clonidine-assisted detoxification, the anesthesia- and buprenorphine-assisted detoxification interventions had significantly greater rates of naltrexone induction (94% anesthesia, 97% buprenorphine, and 21% clonidine), but the groups did not differ in rates of completion of inpatient detoxification. Treatment retention over 12 weeks was not significantly different among groups with 7 of 35 (20%) retained in the anesthesia-assisted group, 9 of 37 (24%) in the buprenorphine-assisted group, and 3 of 34 (9%) in the clonidine-assisted group. Induction with 50 mg of naltrexone significantly reduced the risk of dropping out (odds ratio, 0.28; 95% confidence interval, 0.15-0.51). There were no significant group differences in proportions of opioid-positive urine specimens. The anesthesia procedure was associated with 3 potentially life-threatening adverse events.

CONCLUSION: These data do not support the use of general anesthesia for heroin detoxification and rapid opioid antagonist induction.

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