Opioid detoxification and naltrexone induction strategies: recommendations for clinical practice

Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2012 May;38(3):187-99. doi: 10.3109/00952990.2011.653426. Epub 2012 Mar 12.


Background: Opioid dependence is a significant public health problem associated with high risk for relapse if treatment is not ongoing. While maintenance on opioid agonists (i.e., methadone, buprenorphine) often produces favorable outcomes, detoxification followed by treatment with the μ-opioid receptor antagonist naltrexone may offer a potentially useful alternative to agonist maintenance for some patients.

Method: Treatment approaches for making this transition are described here based on a literature review and solicitation of opinions from several expert clinicians and scientists regarding patient selection, level of care, and detoxification strategies.

Conclusion: Among the current detoxification regimens, the available clinical and scientific data suggest that the best approach may be using an initial 2-4 mg dose of buprenorphine combined with clonidine, other ancillary medications, and progressively increasing doses of oral naltrexone over 3-5 days up to the target dose of naltrexone. However, more research is needed to empirically validate the best approach for making this transition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic alpha-2 Receptor Agonists / administration & dosage
  • Adrenergic alpha-2 Receptor Agonists / therapeutic use
  • Buprenorphine / therapeutic use
  • Clinical Protocols
  • Clonidine / administration & dosage
  • Clonidine / therapeutic use
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Humans
  • Methadone / therapeutic use
  • Naltrexone / administration & dosage
  • Naltrexone / therapeutic use*
  • Narcotic Antagonists / administration & dosage
  • Narcotic Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • Narcotics / therapeutic use
  • Opiate Substitution Treatment / methods*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / prevention & control


  • Adrenergic alpha-2 Receptor Agonists
  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Narcotics
  • Buprenorphine
  • Naltrexone
  • Clonidine
  • Methadone