Purpose: Buprenorphine is an alternative to methadone for the maintenance treatment of heroine dependence and may be effective on a thrice weekly basis. Our objective was to evaluate the effect of thrice weekly buprenorphine maintenance for the treatment of heroin dependence in a primary care clinic on retention in treatment and illicit opioid use.
Subjects and methods: Opioid-dependent patients were randomly assigned to receive thrice weekly buprenorphine maintenance in a primary care clinic that was affiliated with a drug treatment program (n = 23) or in a traditional drug treatment program (n = 23) in a 12-week clinical trial. Primary outcomes were retention in treatment and urine toxicology for opioids; secondary outcomes were opioid withdrawal symptoms and toxicology for cocaine.
Results: Retention during the 12-week study was higher in the primary care setting (78%, 18 of 23) than in the drug treatment setting (52%, 12 of 23; P = 0.06). Patients admitted to primary care had lower rates of opioid use based on overall urine toxicology (63% versus 85%, P < 0.01) and were more likely to achieve 3 or more consecutive weeks of abstinence (43% versus 13%, P = 0.02). Cocaine use was similar in both settings.
Conclusions: Buprenorphine maintenance is an effective treatment for heroin dependence in a primary care setting.