Objectives: Dissatisfaction with current available heroin detoxification regimens has led to the search for alternatives. Evidences have shown that several neurotransmission systems, including serotonin, are involved in opioid withdrawal. This study investigated the efficacy and tolerability of venlafaxine, a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, in managing heroin withdrawal symptoms.
Methods: This was a randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled 7-day trial. Thirty-four heroin-dependent inpatients seeking detoxification were enrolled and assigned to either the venlafaxine (n = 15) or the placebo group (n = 19). The subjects received either venlafaxine 300 mg/d or placebo as their treatment regimen. Outcome measures were Objective Opioid Withdrawal Scale, total sleeping time, visual analog scale for subjective withdrawal severity, Clinical Global Impression scores on discharge, patient's impression of treatment, and amount of ancillary medications used. Data of outcome measures were analyzed by generalized estimating equation model.
Results: We analyzed the data from 20 subjects (8 in venlafaxine group and 12 in placebo group) who remained in the study after the fifth day of the trial. Objective Opioid Withdrawal Scale, visual analog scale, and total sleeping time demonstrated a significant efficacy of venlafaxine compared with the placebo group (P < 0.0001, P = 0.0195, and P < 0.0001, respectively). There was no difference in Clinical Global Impression and patient's impression of treatment between the 2 groups, although the placebo group needed more ancillary medications.
Conclusions: Despite the small sample size, this study showed that venlafaxine is effective in alleviating withdrawal symptoms of heroin with good tolerability and safety.