Do interruptions to the continuity of methadone maintenance treatment in specialist addiction settings increase the risk of drug-related poisoning deaths? A retrospective cohort study

Addiction. 2020 Oct;115(10):1867-1877. doi: 10.1111/add.15004. Epub 2020 Mar 27.


Aims: To examine the risk of mortality associated with interruptions to the continuity of methadone maintenance treatment (MMT), including transfers between services, in opioid-dependent individuals attending specialist addiction services.

Design: Retrospective cohort study using addiction services and primary care dispensing records, the National Methadone Register and National Drug-Related Death Index (NDRDI).

Setting: Geographically defined population in Dublin, Ireland.

Participants: A total of 2899 people prescribed and dispensed methadone in specialist addiction services between January 2010 and December 2015. There were five exposure groups: weeks 1-4 following transfer between treatment providers; weeks 1-4 out of treatment; weeks 5-52 out of treatment; weeks 1-4 of treatment initiation; and weeks 5+ of continuous treatment (reference category).

Measurements: Primary outcome: drug-related poisoning (DRP) deaths. Secondary outcome: all-cause mortality (ACM). Mortality rates calculated by dividing number of deaths (DRP; ACM) in exposure groups by person-years exposure. Unadjusted and adjusted Poisson regression (covariates age, sex, incarceration, methadone dose and comorbidities) estimated differences in mortality rates.

Findings: There were 154 ACM deaths, 55 (35.7%) identified as DRP deaths. No deaths were observed in the first month following transfer between treatment providers. The risk of DRP mortality was highest in weeks 1-4 out of treatment [adjusted relative risk (aRR = 4.04, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.43-11.43, P = 0.009] and weeks 1-4 of treatment initiation (ARR = 3.4, 95% CI = 1.2-9.64, P = 0.02). Similarly, risk of ACM was highest in weeks 1-4 out of treatment (ARR = 11.78, 95% CI = 7.73-17.94, P < 0.001), weeks 1-4 of treatment initiation (aRR = 5.11, 95% CI = 2.95-8.83, P < 0.001) and weeks 5-52 off treatment (aRR = 2.04, 95% CI = 1.2-3.47, P = 0.009).

Conclusions: Interruptions to the continuity of methadone maintenance treatment by treatment provider do not appear to be periods of risk for drug-related poisoning or all-cause mortality deaths. Risk of drug related poisoning and all-cause mortality deaths appears to be greatest during the first 4 weeks of treatment initiation/re-initiation and after treatment cessation.

Keywords: All-cause mortality; drug-related poisoning mortality; heroin; methadone maintenance treatment; opioid substitution treatment; opioid-use disorder; transfer.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cause of Death
  • Cohort Studies
  • Drug Overdose / mortality*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ireland
  • Male
  • Methadone / therapeutic use*
  • Middle Aged
  • Narcotics / therapeutic use*
  • Opiate Substitution Treatment / mortality*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / drug therapy
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / mortality*
  • Patient Transfer / statistics & numerical data*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors


  • Narcotics
  • Methadone