WEDNESDAY, Aug. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Treating heroin addicts, who have previously failed treatment, with the active ingredient in heroin keeps them in treatment and reduces illegal activities better than methadone, according to a study in the Aug. 20 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Eugenia Oviedo-Joekes, Ph.D., from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, and colleagues randomly assigned 226 long-term heroin users who had failed previous addiction treatment (including methadone) to methadone or diacetylmorphine, the active ingredient in heroin.
At 12 months, the researchers found that considerably more users receiving diacetylmorphine were still in addiction treatment (87.8 versus 54.1 percent; rate ratio, 1.62). The diacetylmorphine group had a significantly greater reduction in the rates of illicit drug use or other illegal activity (67.0 versus 47.7 percent; rate ratio, 1.40). However, the authors note, 10 patients overdosed and six patients had seizures in the diacetylmorphine group.
"These data point to a conclusion that has been widely supported, although not without controversy, by similar recent studies in Europe," Virginia Berridge, Ph.D., from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine writes in an accompanying editorial. "We will now wait to see what political or professional factors will support or oppose the conclusions of this study in its home territory, and whether the historical legacy of heroin will matter."
One author reported a financial relationship with Schering-Plough.