Harm reduction with pharmacotherapy for homeless people with alcohol dependence: protocol for a randomized controlled trial

Susan E Collins, Andrew J Saxon, Mark H Duncan, Brian F Smart, Joseph O Merrill, Daniel K Malone, T Ron Jackson, Seema L Clifasefi, Jutta Joesch, Richard K Ries
Contemporary Clinical Trials 2014, 38 (2): 221-34

BACKGROUND: Interventions requiring abstinence from alcohol are neither preferred by nor shown to be highly effective with many homeless individuals with alcohol dependence. It is therefore important to develop lower-threshold, patient-centered interventions for this multimorbid and high-utilizing population. Harm-reduction counseling requires neither abstinence nor use reduction and pairs a compassionate style with patient-driven goal-setting. Extended-release naltrexone (XR-NTX), a monthly injectable formulation of an opioid receptor antagonist, reduces craving and may support achievement of harm-reduction goals. Together, harm-reduction counseling and XR-NTX may support alcohol harm reduction and quality-of-life improvement.

AIMS: Study aims include testing: a) the relative efficacy of XR-NTX and harm-reduction counseling compared to a community-based, supportive-services-as-usual control, b) theory-based mediators of treatment effects, and c) treatment effects on publicly funded service costs.

METHODS: This RCT involves four arms: a) XR-NTX+harm-reduction counseling, b) placebo+harm-reduction counseling, c) harm-reduction counseling only, and d) community-based, supportive-services-as-usual control conditions. Participants are currently/formerly homeless, alcohol dependent individuals (N=300). Outcomes include alcohol variables (i.e., craving, quantity/frequency, problems and biomarkers), health-related quality of life, and publicly funded service utilization and associated costs. Mediators include 10-point motivation rulers and the Penn Alcohol Craving Scale. XR-NTX and harm-reduction counseling are administered every 4weeks over the 12-week treatment course. Follow-up assessments are conducted at weeks 24 and 36.

DISCUSSION: If found efficacious, XR-NTX and harm-reduction counseling will be well-positioned to support reductions in alcohol-related harm, decreases in costs associated with publicly funded service utilization, and increases in quality of life among homeless, alcohol-dependent individuals.

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