Introduction and aims: The aim of this study was to compare the mortality associated with oral naltrexone, methadone and buprenorphine in opioid dependence treatment, employing a retrospective data analysis using coronial and prescription data.
Design and methods: The number of deaths were identified through national coronial data and number of treatment recipients were estimated from 2000 to 2003 prescriptions and restricted medications data. Mortality rates were expressed as deaths per number of treatment episodes and per person-years at high and low risk of fatal opioid overdose.
Results: Thirty-two oral naltrexone, one buprenorphine and 282 methadone-related deaths were identified. Mortality rates in the highest risk period in deaths per 100 person-years were 22.1 (14.6 - 32.2) for oral naltrexone following treatment cessation and 3.0 (2.3 - 3.9) for methadone during treatment induction. Rates in the lowest risk period in deaths per 100 person-years were 1.0 (0.3 - 2.2) during oral naltrexone treatment and 0.34 (0.3 - 0.4) during post-induction methadone treatment. The relative risk of death for oral naltrexone subjects was 7.4 times (high-risk period, p < 0.0001) or 2.8 times (low-risk period, p = 0.055) that of methadone subjects.
Discussion and conclusions: This is the first comparison of mortality associated with these three pharmacotherapies for opioid dependence. The risk of death related to oral naltrexone appears higher than that related to methadone treatment.