According to the CDC, in 2014, 61% of drug overdose deaths involved some type of opioid, including heroin. Seventy-eight Americans die every day from an opioid overdose and heroin use has increased significantly across most demographic groups.
To help tackle this problem, a group of researchers conducted a study to identify key relapse predictors among opioid use disorder patients undergoing methadone maintenance treatment.
What is Methadone Maintenance Treatment?
As the study describes it, methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) is the “most commonly used intervention for opioid use disorder patients, consisting of supervised prescription of methadone, a long-acting synthetic opioid, to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and reduce drug-seeking behavior.” However, although MMT has been used to treat opioid dependence for more than 45 years, relapse is still a huge problem among patients. In fact, it is reported that 46% of patients still continue to use illicit opioids during or after treatment.
Published in the Libertas Academica journal, the April study reveals that there several factors associated with accelerated opioid relapse in MMT patients. The authors break it down into three categories:
- Age of onset use: For every year increase in the age of onset opioid abuse, the risk for relapse increases by 10%.
- Injecting drug use behavior: Those with an injecting drug use history are more than 2 times as likely to relapse during treatment.
- Illicit benzodiazepine consumption: For every day of benzodiazepine use (valium, Xanax, etc.) in the previous month before treatment, the risk for relapse increases by 7%.
Although it is easy to be disillusioned by the high relapse rate for addicts in methadone treatment, there is a silver lining to knowing this information. The results of the study will be able to help counselors, health care providers, physicians and addiction experts identify patients who are at an increased risk of relapse during MMT, thus allowing for more targeted and individualized therapies for those individuals.
There’s no question that there are many challenges to treating opioid addiction, and counseling, support groups and even residential treatment centers may not be enough to break the cycle. However, through increasing awareness, we may be able to start categorizing patients into groups according to risk of relapse and begin to create rehabilitation plans that provide the most success for opioid abusers of every demographic.