Background: The partial opiate-receptor agonist buprenorphine has been suggested for treatment of heroin dependence, but there are few long-term and placebo-controlled studies of its effectiveness. We aimed to assess the 1-year efficacy of buprenorphine in combination with intensive psychosocial therapy for treatment of heroin dependence.
Methods: 40 individuals aged older than 20 years, who met DSM-IV criteria for opiate dependence for at least 1 year, but did not fulfil Swedish legal criteria for methadone maintenance treatment were randomly allocated either to daily buprenorphine (fixed dose 16 mg sublingually for 12 months; supervised daily administration for a least 6 months, possible take-home doses thereafter) or a tapered 6 day regimen of buprenorphine, thereafter followed by placebo. All patients participated in cognitive-behavioural group therapy to prevent relapse, received weekly individual counselling sessions, and submitted thrice weekly supervised urine samples for analysis to detect illicit drug use. Our primary endpoint was 1-year retention in treatment and analysis was by intention to treat.
Findings: 1-year retention in treatment was 75% and 0% in the buprenorphine and placebo groups, respectively (p=0.0001; risk ratio 58.7 [95% CI 7.4-467.4]). Urine screens were about 75% negative for illicit opiates, central stimulants, cannabinoids, and benzodiazepines in the patients remaining in treatment.
Interpretation: The combination of buprenorphine and intensive psychosocial treatment is safe and highly efficacious, and should be added to the treatment options available for individuals who are dependent on heroin.