Background: There is on-going controversy in relation to the efficacy of naltrexone used for the treatment of heroin addiction, and the important covariates of that success. We were also interested to review our experience with two depot forms of implantable naltrexone.
Methods: A retrospective review of patients' charts was undertaken, patients were recalled by telephone and by letter, and urine drug screen samples were collected. Opiate free success (OFS) was the parameter of interest. Three groups were defined. The first two were treated in the previous 12 months and comprised "implant" and "tablet" patients. A third group was "historical" comprising those treated orally in the preceding 12 months.
Results: There were 102, 113 and 161 patients in each group respectively. Groups were matched for age, sex, and dose of heroin used, but not financial status or social support. The overall follow-up rate was 82%. The Kaplan Meier 12 month OFS were 82%, 58% and 52% respectively. 12 post-treatment variables were independently associated with treatment retention. In a Cox proportional hazard multivariate model social support, the number of detoxification episodes, post-treatment employment, the use of multiple implant episodes and spiritual belief were significantly related to OFS.
Conclusion: Consistent with the voluminous international literature clinically useful retention rates can be achieved with naltrexone, which may be improved by implants and particularly serial implants, repeat detoxification, meticulous clinical follow-up, and social support. As depot formulations of naltrexone become increasingly available such results can guide their clinical deployment, improve treatment outcomes, and enlarge the policy options for an exciting non-addictive pharmacotherapy for opiate addiction.