Supervised dosing with a long-acting opioid medication in the management of opioid dependence

Rosella Saulle, Simona Vecchi, Linda Gowing
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2017 April 27, 4: CD011983

BACKGROUND: Opioid dependence (OD) is an increasing clinical and public health problem worldwide. International guidelines recommend opioid substitution treatment (OST), such as methadone and buprenorphine, as first-line medication treatment for OD. A negative aspect of OST is that the medication used can be diverted both through sale on the black market, and the unsanctioned use of medications. Daily supervised administration of medications used in OST has the advantage of reducing the risk of diversion, and may promote therapeutic engagement, potentially enhancing the psychosocial aspect of OST, but costs more and is more restrictive on the client than dispensing for off-site consumption.

OBJECTIVES: The objective of this systematic review is to compare the effectiveness of OST with supervised dosing relative to dispensing of medication for off-site consumption.

SEARCH METHODS: We searched in Cochrane Drugs and Alcohol Group Specialised Register and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, Embase, CINAHL, Web of Science from inception up to April 2016. Ongoing and unpublished studies were searched via ( and World Health Organization (WHO) International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) ( searches included non-English language literature. We handsearched references on topic-related systematic reviews.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs), controlled clinical trials (CCTs), and prospective controlled cohort studies, involving people who are receiving OST (methadone, buprenorphine) and comparing supervised dosing with dispensing of medication to be consumed away from the dispensing point, usually without supervision.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: We used the standard methodological procedures expected by Cochrane.

MAIN RESULTS: Six studies (four RCTs and two prospective observational cohort studies), involving 7999 participants comparing supervised OST treatment with unsupervised treatment, met the inclusion criteria. The risk of bias was generally moderate across trials, but the results reported on outcomes that we planned to consider were limited. Overall, we judged the quality of the evidence from very low to low for all the outcomes.We found no difference in retention at any duration with supervised compared to unsupervised dosing (RR 0.99, 95% CI 0.88 to 1.12, 716 participants, four trials, low-quality evidence) or in retention in the shortest follow-up period, three months (RR 0.94; 95% CI 0.84 to 1.05; 472 participants, three trials, low-quality evidence). Additional data at 12 months from one observational study found no difference in retention between groups (RR 0.94, 95% CI 0.77 to 1.14; n = 300).There was no difference in abstinence at the end of treatment (self-reported drug use) (67% versus 60%, P = 0.33, 293 participants, one trial, very low-quality evidence); and in diversion of medication (5% versus 2%, 293 participants, one trial, very low-quality evidence).Regarding our secondary outcomes, we did not found a difference in the incidence of adverse effects in the supervised compared to unsupervised control group (RR 0.63; 96% CI 0.10 to 3.86; 363 participants, two trials, very low-quality evidence). Data on severity of dependence were very limited (244 participants, one trial) and showed no difference between the two approaches. Data on deaths were reported in two studies. One trial reported two deaths in the supervised group (low-quality evidence), while in the cohort study all-cause mortality was found lower in regular supervision group (crude mortality rate 0.60 versus 0.81 per 100 person-years), although after adjustment insufficient evidence existed to suggest that regular supervision was protective (mortality rate ratio = 1.23, 95% CI = 0.67 to 2.27).No studies reported pain symptoms, drug craving, aberrant opioid-related behaviours, days of unsanctioned opioid use and overdose.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Take-home medication strategies are attractive to treatment services due to lower costs, and place less restrictions on clients, but it is unknown whether they may be associated with increased risk of diversion and unsanctioned use of medication. There is uncertainty about the effects of supervised dosing compared with unsupervised medication due to the low and very low quality of the evidence for the primary outcomes of interest for this review. Data on defined secondary outcomes were similarly limited. More research comparing supervised and take-home medication strategies is needed to support decisions on the relative effectiveness of these strategies. The trials should be designed and conducted with high quality and over a longer follow-up period to support comparison of strategies at different stages of treatment. In particular, there is a need for studies assessing in more detail the risk of diversion and safety outcomes of using supervised OST to manage opioid dependence.

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