Objective: To provide an overview of treatment options for opioid-dependent patients.
Method: We screened all published studies on the treatment of opioid dependence, with a special focus on systematic literature reviews, formal metaanalyses, and recent trials.
Results: Both clinical experience and neurobiological evidence indicate that opioid dependence is a chronic relapsing disorder. Treatment objectives depend on the pursued goals: crisis intervention, abstinence-oriented treatment (detoxification and relapse prevention), or agonist maintenance treatment. The high quality of solid evidence in the literature demonstrates that there are numerous effective interventions available for the treatment of opioid dependence. Crisis intervention, frequently necessary owing to the high overdose rate, can be effectively handled with naloxone. Abstinence-oriented interventions are effective for only a few motivated patients with stable living conditions and adequate social support. Agonist maintenance treatment is considered the first line of treatment for opioid dependence. Numerous studies have shown efficacy for methadone and buprenorphine treatment, while maintenance with other agonists is also becoming available to a greater extent. Maintenance treatment with diamorphine should be made available for the small group of treatment-resistant, severely dependent addicts. Other harm-reduction measures can serve to engage individuals with opioid addiction who are not in treatment.
Conclusion: Opioid dependence is a chronic relapsing disease that is difficult to cure, but effective treatments are available to stabilize patients and reduce harm, thereby increasing life expectancy and quality of life.