Objective: To provide clinicians, patients, and the general public with a responsible assessment of the effective approaches to treat opiate dependence.
Participants: A nonfederal, nonadvocate, 12-member panel representing the fields of psychology, psychiatry, behavioral medicine, family medicine, drug abuse, epidemiology, and the public. In addition, 25 experts from these same fields presented data to the panel and a conference audience of 600. Presentations and discussions were divided into 3 phases over 2 1/2 days: (1) presentations by investigators working in the areas relevant to the consensus questions during a 2-day public session; (2) questions and statements from conference attendees during open discussion periods that are part of the public session; and (3) closed deliberations by the panel during the remainder of the second day and morning of a third day. The conference was organized and supported by the Office of Medical Applications of Research, National Institutes of Health.
Evidence: The literature was searched through MEDLINE and other National Library of Medicine and online databases from January 1994 through September 1997 and an extensive bibliography of 941 references was provided to the panel and the conference audience. Experts prepared abstracts for their presentations as speakers at the conference with relevant citations from the literature. Scientific evidence was given precedence over clinical anecdotal experience.
Consensus process: The panel, answering predefined questions, developed its conclusions based on the scientific evidence presented in open forum and the scientific literature. The panel composed a draft statement that was read in its entirety and circulated to the experts and the audience for comment. Thereafter, the panel resolved conflicting recommendations and released a revised statement at the end of the conference. The panel finalized the revisions within a few weeks after the conference. The draft statement was made available on the World Wide Web immediately following its release at the conference and was updated with the panel's final revisions.
Conclusions: Opiate dependence is a brain-related medical disorder that can be effectively treated with significant benefits for the patient and society, and society must make a commitment to offer effective treatment for opiate dependence to all who need it. All persons dependent on opiates should have access to methadone hydrochloride maintenance therapy under legal supervision, and the US Office of National Drug Control Policy and the US Department of Justice should take the necessary steps to implement this recommendation. There is a need for improved training for physicians and other health care professionals. Training to determine diagnosis and treatment of opiate dependence should also be improved in medical schools. The unnecessary regulations of methadone maintenance therapy and other long-acting opiate agonist treatment programs should be reduced, and coverage for these programs should be a required benefit in public and private insurance programs.