Background: Buprenorphine is a promising alternative to methadone or levo-acetyl alpha methadol for opioid agonist maintenance treatment, and thrice-weekly dosing would facilitate its use for this purpose.
Methods: After a 3-day induction, opioid-dependent patients (n = 92) were randomly assigned to daily clinic attendance and 12-weeks maintenance treatment with sublingual buprenorphine administered double blind either daily (n = 45; 16 mg/70 kg) or thrice weekly (n = 47; 34 mg/70 kg on Fridays and Sundays and 44 mg/70 kg on Tuesdays). Outcome measures include retention, results of 3x/week urine toxicology tests, and weekly self-reported illicit drug use.
Results: There were no significant differences at baseline in important social, demographic, and drug-use features. Retention was 71% in the daily and 77% in the 3x/week conditions. The proportion of opioid-positive urine tests decreased significantly from baseline in both groups and averaged 57% (daily) and 58% in 3x/week. There were no significant differences between groups in self-reported number of bags of heroin used for any day of the week, including Thursdays (48-72 hours following the last buprenorphine dose for subjects in the 3x/week condition), or in medication compliance (92%, 91%) and counseling attendance (82%, 82%).
Conclusions: At an equivalent weekly dose of 112 mg/70 kg, thrice-weekly and daily sublingual buprenorphine appear comparable in efficacy with regard to retention and reductions in illicit opioid and other drug use. These findings support the potential for utilizing thrice-weekly buprenorphine dosing in novel settings.