Publication date: Apr 08, 2019
In the 1990s, a trial of prescribing pharmaceutical heroin for people with opioid-dependence had support from Australian State Health Ministers. However, in 1997 the proposal was vetoed by the federal Prime Minister in face of a negative tabloid media campaign. The debate then shifted to abstinence-orientated treatments. Later on, reduced heroin availability took opioid-related harms away from public sight. In this commentary, we aimed to explore the current need and the options to implement such program, lately referred to as supervised injectable opioid treatment (SIOT), in Australia. We argue that with the aging populations of opioid-dependent people who have not benefited from existing treatment options, increased misuse of prescription opioids, rising overdose rates, and the risk of unfolding overdose crisis, it seems timely to pilot SIOT here. Since the 1990s, seven RCTs as summarised in two systematic literature reviews, demonstrated that SIOT is effective for treatment-resistant opioid dependence. A sustainable SIOT model should, however, respond to key concerns related to its delivery, such as the lack of a patient exit strategy and the high cost of indefinite treatment. Evidence from long-term studies seem to support the notion that SIOT could be provided as a medium duration treatment (as opposed to short-term or indefinite), with the clear aim to stabilise patients, gradually wean them off injectable medication and transfer to opioid assisted treatment (OAT). Also, SIOT could be integrated into the existing public OAT clinics in Australia. This would reduce costs, but also provide a more patient-centred response to opioid dependence and further improve the acceptability and efficiency of OAT. The controversy that developed in the past should be mitigated by advances in research since the first Australian enquiry, use of a registered medication (open-label hydromorphone) rather than pharmaceutical heroin, and setting up clear treatment aims.
, Belackova, Salmon, A.M., Jauncey, M., and Bell, J. Learning from the past, looking to the future – Is there a place for injectable opioid treatment among Australia’s responses to opioid misuse? 03366. 2019 Int J Drug Policy.
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