A systematic review of health economic models of opioid agonist therapies in maintenance treatment of non-prescription opioid dependence

Addict Sci Clin Pract. 2017 Feb 24;12(1):6. doi: 10.1186/s13722-017-0071-3.


Background: Opioid dependence is a chronic condition with substantial health, economic and social costs. The study objective was to conduct a systematic review of published health-economic models of opioid agonist therapy for non-prescription opioid dependence, to review the different modelling approaches identified, and to inform future modelling studies.

Methods: Literature searches were conducted in March 2015 in eight electronic databases, supplemented by hand-searching reference lists and searches on six National Health Technology Assessment Agency websites. Studies were included if they: investigated populations that were dependent on non-prescription opioids and were receiving opioid agonist or maintenance therapy; compared any pharmacological maintenance intervention with any other maintenance regimen (including placebo or no treatment); and were health-economic models of any type.

Results: A total of 18 unique models were included. These used a range of modelling approaches, including Markov models (n = 4), decision tree with Monte Carlo simulations (n = 3), decision analysis (n = 3), dynamic transmission models (n = 3), decision tree (n = 1), cohort simulation (n = 1), Bayesian (n = 1), and Monte Carlo simulations (n = 2). Time horizons ranged from 6 months to lifetime. The most common evaluation was cost-utility analysis reporting cost per quality-adjusted life-year (n = 11), followed by cost-effectiveness analysis (n = 4), budget-impact analysis/cost comparison (n = 2) and cost-benefit analysis (n = 1). Most studies took the healthcare provider's perspective. Only a few models included some wider societal costs, such as productivity loss or costs of drug-related crime, disorder and antisocial behaviour. Costs to individuals and impacts on family and social networks were not included in any model.

Conclusion: A relatively small number of studies of varying quality were found. Strengths and weaknesses relating to model structure, inputs and approach were identified across all the studies. There was no indication of a single standard emerging as a preferred approach. Most studies omitted societal costs, an important issue since the implications of drug abuse extend widely beyond healthcare services. Nevertheless, elements from previous models could together form a framework for future economic evaluations in opioid agonist therapy including all relevant costs and outcomes. This could more adequately support decision-making and policy development for treatment of non-prescription opioid dependence.

Keywords: Economic evaluation; Non-prescription opioid dependence; Opioid agonist maintenance therapy; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Buprenorphine / economics*
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Drug Overdose / economics*
  • Drug Overdose / therapy
  • Humans
  • Models, Economic*
  • Narcotic Antagonists / economics*
  • Nonprescription Drugs / economics*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / economics*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / therapy


  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Nonprescription Drugs
  • Buprenorphine