Heroin Treatment (Inconveniently) Beats Methadone

Heroin Treatment (Inconveniently) Beats Methadone

By Valerie Tejeda 03/13/12

Medically prescribed heroin seems to be more effective and more cost-effective than methadone—but less politically acceptable.

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Medically prescribed heroin is a more beneficial and less expensive way of treating addicts than methadone, according to a new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal—and the findings are causing renewed questioning of political opposition to medical smack. Researchers from Providence Health Care and the University of British Colombia found that addicts who received diacetylmorphine—medically prescribed heroin—stayed in treatment longer, and spent less time in relapse, than patients receiving methadone. In addition, diacetylmorphine patients had a greater chance of living longer than methadone patients. The findings also suggest that medically prescribed heroin is a little more economical than methadone. People taking diacetylmorphine averaged a lifetime cost of $1.09 million per patient, while those in the methadone group averaged a cost of $1.14 million. The figures were taken from the North American Opiate Medication Initiative (NAOMI), a medically prescribed heroin trial which took place in Vancouver from 2005 to 2008, and other drug data from British Columbia. "The question I get most about heroin-assisted therapy is whether we can afford the increased direct costs of the treatment," says the study's co-author, Dr. Martin Schechter. "What this study shows is that the more appropriate question is whether we can afford not to."