"Should I stay or should I go?" Coming off methadone and buprenorphine treatment

Adam R Winstock, Nicholas Lintzeris, Toby Lea
International Journal on Drug Policy 2011, 22 (1): 77-81

BACKGROUND: This study aimed to investigate patient perspectives regarding coming off maintenance opioid substitution treatment (OST). The study explored previous experiences, current interest and concerns about stopping treatment, and perceptions of how and when coming off treatment should be supported.

METHODS: A cross-sectional survey was used. Participants were 145 patients receiving OST at public opioid treatment clinics in Sydney, Australia.

RESULTS: Sixty-two percent reported high interest in coming off treatment in the next 6 months. High interest was associated with having discussed coming off treatment with a greater number of categories of people (OR=1.72), not citing concern about heroin relapse (OR=3.18), and shorter duration of current treatment episode (OR=0.99). Seventy-one percent reported previous withdrawal attempts and 23% had achieved opioid abstinence for ≥3 months following a previous withdrawal attempt. Attempts most commonly involved jumping off (59%), and doctor-controlled (52%) or self-controlled (48%) gradual reduction. For future attempts respondents were most interested in doctor-controlled (68%) or self-controlled (41%) gradual reduction. Concerns regarding coming off treatment included withdrawal discomfort (68%), increased pain (50%), and relapse to heroin use (48%).

CONCLUSION: While some patients may require lifetime maintenance, the issue of coming off treatment is important to many patients and should be discussed regularly throughout treatment and where appropriate supported by a menu of clinical options.

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