Psychosocial and pharmacological treatments versus pharmacological treatments for opioid detoxification

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004 Oct 18:(4):CD005031. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD005031.


Background: Different pharmacological approaches aimed at opioid detoxification are effective. Nevertheless a majority of patients relapse to heroin use, and relapses are a substantial problem in the rehabilitation of dependent heroin users. Some studies have suggested that the sorts of symptoms which are most distressing to addicts during detoxification are psychological symptoms rather than physiological symptoms associated with the withdrawal syndrome.

Objectives: To evaluate the effectiveness of any psychosocial plus any pharmacological interventions versus any pharmacological alone for opioid detoxification, in helping patients to complete the treatment, reduce the use of substances and improve health and social status.

Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Trials (CENTRAL) issue 3, 2003; MEDLINE 1966-2003; EMBASE 1980-2003; PsycINFO 1985-2003; relevant web sites; scan of reference list of relevant articles. There were no language or publication restrictions.

Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials which focus on any psychosocial associated with any pharmacological intervention aimed at opioid detoxification. People less than 18 years of age and pregnant women were excluded.

Data collection and analysis: The trials were independently assessed for inclusion and methodological quality by three reviewers. Data were extracted independently and double checked.

Main results: The searching process resulted in the identification of 77 different studies: 8 studies met inclusion criteria. These studies considered 5 different psychosocial interventions and 2 substitution detoxification treatments: Methadone and Buprenorphine. The results show promising benefit from adding any psychosocial treatment to any substitution detoxification treatment in terms of completion of treatment RR 1.68 (95% CI 1.11-2.55), results at follow-up RR 2.43 (95% CI 1.61-3.66), and compliance RR 0.48 (95% CI 0.38-0.59). In respect of the use of heroin during the treatment, the differences were not statistically significant but favoured the combined treatments.

Reviewers' conclusions: Psychosocial treatments offered in addition to pharmacological detoxification treatments are effective in terms of completion of treatment, results at follow-up and compliance. Although a treatment, like detoxification, that exclusively attenuates the severity of opiate withdrawal symptoms can be at best partially effective for a chronic relapsing disorder like opiate dependence, this type of treatment is an essential step prior to longer-term drug-free treatment and it is desirable to develop adjunct psychosocial approaches that might make detoxification more effective. Limitations to this review are imposed by the heterogeneity of the assessment of outcomes. Because of lack of detailed information no meta analysis could be performed to analyse the results related to several outcomes.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Methadone / therapeutic use
  • Narcotics / therapeutic use
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Psychotherapy* / methods


  • Narcotics
  • Methadone