This study aims to identify periods of elevated risk of drug-related mortality during methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) in primary care using a cohort of 3,162 Scottish drug users between January 1993 and February 2004. Deaths occurring during treatment or within 3 days after last methadone prescription expired were considered as cases "on treatment." Fatalities occurring 4 days or more after leaving treatment were cases "off treatment." Sixty-four drug-related deaths were identified. The greatest risk of drug-related death was in the first 2 weeks of treatment (adjusted hazard ratio 2.60, 95% confidence interval 1.03-6.56). Risk of drug-related death was lower after the first 30 days following treatment cessation, relative to the first 30 days off treatment. History of psychiatric admission was associated with increased risk of drug-related death in treatment. Increasing numbers of treatment episodes and urine testing were protective. History of psychiatric admission, increasing numbers of urine tests, and coprescriptions of benzodiazepines increased the risk of mortality out of treatment. The risk of drug-related mortality in MMT is elevated during periods of treatment transition, specifically treatment initiation and the first 30 days following treatment dropout or discharge.
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