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Supervised injectable heroin (SIH) treatment has emerged over the past 15 years as an intensive treatment for entrenched heroin users who have not responded to standard treatments such as oral methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) or residential rehabilitation.
To synthesise published findings for treatment with SIH for refractory heroin-dependence through systematic review and meta-analysis, and to examine the political and scientific response to these findings.
Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of SIH treatment were identified through database searching, and random effects pooled efficacy was estimated for SIH treatment. Methodological quality was assessed according to criteria set out by the Cochrane Collaboration.
Six RCTs met the inclusion criteria for analysis. Across the trials, SIH treatment improved treatment outcome, i.e. greater reduction in the use of illicit ‘street’ heroin in patients receiving SIH treatment compared with control groups (most often receiving MMT).
SIH is found to be an effective way of treating heroin dependence refractory to standard treatment. SIH may be less safe than MMT and therefore requires more clinical attention to manage greater safety issues. This intensive intervention is for a patient population previously considered unresponsive to treatment. Inclusion of this low-volume, high-intensity treatment can now improve the impact of comprehensive healthcare provision.
Despite evidence of the effectiveness of injectable opioid treatment compared with oral methadone for chronic heroin addiction, the additional cost of injectable treatment is considerable, and cost-effectiveness uncertain.
To compare the cost-effectiveness of supervised injectable heroin and injectable methadone with optimised oral methadone for chronic refractory heroin addiction.
Multisite, open-label, randomised controlled trial. Outcomes were assessed in terms of quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs). Economic perspective included health, social services and criminal justice resources.
Intervention costs over 26 weeks were significantly higher for injectable heroin (mean £8995 v. £4674 injectable methadone and £2596 oral methadone; P<0.0001). Costs overall were highest for oral methadone (mean £15805 v. £13410 injectable heroin and £10945 injectable methadone; P =n.s.) due to higher costs of criminal activity. In cost-effectiveness analysis, oral methadone was dominated by injectable heroin and injectable methadone (more expensive and less effective). At willingness to pay of £30 000 per QALY, there is a higher probability of injectable methadone being more cost-effective (80%) than injectable heroin.
Injectable opioid treatments are more cost-effective than optimised oral methadone for chronic refractory heroin addiction. The choice between supervised injectable heroin and injectable methadone is less clear. There is currently evidence to suggest superior effectiveness of injectable heroin but at a cost that policy makers may find unacceptable. Future research should consider the use of decision analytic techniques to model expected costs and benefits of the treatments over the longer term.
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