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Medically Prescribed Heroin More Cost-Effective Than Methadone for Treating Heroin Addiction: Study


Treating long-term heroin users with medically prescribed heroin is more cost-effective than methadone, a new study suggests.

Heroin users who were treated with medically prescribed heroin, or diacetylmorphine, stayed in treatment longer and spent less time in relapse, compared with those who received methadone. Both results are linked with reduced criminal activity, according to CBS News. The researchers also found those receiving diacetylmorphine were more likely to live longer than heroin users receiving methadone maintenance therapy.

Each patient in methadone therapy costs society $1.14 million, compared with $1.09 million for a patient treated with diacetylmorphine, the researchers estimated. They took into consideration treatment costs, expenditures for drug therapies, and criminal justice system costs.

“The question I get most about heroin-assisted therapy is whether we can afford the increased direct costs of the treatment,” co-author Dr. Martin Schechter of the University of British Columbia said in a news release. “What this study shows is that the more appropriate question is whether we can afford not to.”

The results appear in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

18 Responses to this article

  1. Ronald Antolik / May 18, 2014 at 10:39 am

    I have sufferd a tbi here in Indiana. I now suffer from headaches no Very debilitating headaches everyday. Ive never used heroin before.but having these headaches like this are leaving me to think about diffrent options. USA have these new laws passed and my doctor had me up to 60mg oxycotin and fiorinal with codine 30mg. I now have been cut off of all meds leaving me completely miserable everyday of my life. Heroin is grown off of plants, if I’m not mistaken. I need to moove away from this country and find a doctor willing to help me with my condition. I’ve resurched and resurched. I have come to the conclusion that this may be good for some people if it can be regulated to where the patient won’t OD and die. I believe that these plants that the good Lord has provided here on earth,are all here for a reason. I suffer chronic pain in my head, neck, back, and legs. I need some kind of relief. Please if you know of a doctor that could help me I’m willing to move wherever for real pain treatment. Not fake pain treatment that we have here in America. Please someone help me!
    Ronnie a

    • Matthew / July 23, 2014 at 6:21 pm

      Weed has been used to treat headaches and migraines very successfully.

  2. Robert / May 16, 2012 at 8:28 am

    There are no 70 year old heroin addicts, they die or quit

  3. arthur flax, lcadc / March 20, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    Providing herion, excuse me, diacetylmorphine, now we are talking legitmate usage in a clinical setting. Can’t forget the spin to reframe. It is harm reduction, with “psychosocial treatment”; for some persons it may be appropriate, if it is free, and safely used in an appropriate setting under control, in maintaince doses, as it was originally designed to do for pain control not addiction. I understand in some European countries addicts register and receive free herion to use at the pharmacy. Is anyone more familiar with this?

  4. Bill Poel / March 16, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    Supplying heroin to an addict certainly doesn’t solve the addiction problem. Methadone and suboxone don’t solve the problem either. Both are abused and basically exchange one addiction for another. There is a core issue why someone becomes an addict. Unless that issue is found and treated there will be continued failure. US treatment is basically a one size fits all approach. It certainly doesn’t work very well. Relapse is built right into the equation. If people are actually cured, which is possible,think of all the money that would be lost by both treatment programs and drug companies. Addiction “treatment” is big business. The relapse concept is perfect for them. it’s all about money.

  5. Joe Miller / March 16, 2012 at 2:55 am

    Dr. Coleman, I find state sponsored incarceration or forced treatment for individuals with non-contagious medical conditions even more frightening. Looks like we simply traded a King for a “Drug Czar”. How much longer before we decide to incarcerate alcoholics or force them into treatment? All hail the drug czar!

  6. Avatar of Alfred Eichler
    Alfred Eichler / March 15, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    This Great News!! I have been Clean (Total Abstinent from all Mood and Mind Altering Drugs) For 24 Years. I was a Program Director for 7 years In two Different Opioid Agonist Treatment Centers In Texas. I was there when the FDA approved in Buprenorphine for opioid treatment. Now at Last Heroin. When will it be available and where can I get it. I need to stop feeling bad about living in society where the Governments answer to all Addiction is Drug Replacement Therapy.

  7. Bob / March 15, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    I know how this country can save more money. Don’t offer treatment unless the client pays for it. I’m a counselor and don’t believe in what I suggested but when they are talking money, usually the addicted doesn’t have any insurance. Suboxone works very well, but the dr’s leave the client on it way to long. I hear patients all time say they are not going to ever ask to be taken off it, why would they , we pay the 900 a
    Month for their prescriptions.

  8. karen / March 15, 2012 at 1:47 am

    are we talking about treatment and recovery or refining the addiction for the benefit of the drug industry that may well be sponsoring this site

  9. Avatar of Dr. John Coleman
    Dr. John Coleman / March 14, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    I am always surprised at how easily and quick our post-feudal domocracies embrace state-sponsored addiction as a remedy for drug abuse. In the US, which is a revolutionary democracy and not a post-feudal democracy, we still believe in the right of the individual to be free of state-sponsored addiction. It’s getting more and more difficult to hold to this position, I admit, but we still like to think that the health and welfare of the individual and not that of the realm or state is paramount. Our misguided advocates to the contrary notwithstanding, in 1776, we rejected the king and no longer sacrificed our lives and sacerd treasures to preserve the undeserved power and majesty of the king. Living drug-free and advocating this for others to adopt is the epitome of freedom and liberty that, sadly, our Canadian and European colleagues — still firmly attached to their virtual monarchs — cannot or will not accept.

  10. NAABT / March 14, 2012 at 11:53 am

    Sure, and cigarettes are cheaper than chemotherapy. But just as cigarettes don’t treat cancer, heroin doesn’t treat heroin addiction. The problem here is a misunderstanding of what addiction is and the purpose of treatment.

    Addiction is a brain adaptation that manifests as an unhealthy influence on behavior in the presence of cravings. It is the cravings and resultant behavior that detracts from quality of life and makes addiction a bad thing. Simply maintaining the addiction through the cheapest means possible is not treatment because the cravings and influence on behavior still remain and still negatively affect quality of life.

    Unlike heroin, medications like buprenorphine and methadone are intended to suppress the cravings thus ending the negative influence on behavior, therefor suppressing all signs and symptoms of the disease. Effective treatment with buprenorphine is better described as addiction remission rather than maintaining the addiction as with heroin.

    Controlled heroin administration may be an effective crime prevention and harm reduction policy, but it should not be misinterpreted as addiction treatment, because the addiction still remains.


  11. Avatar of Keith Burns (ADMIT Services)
    Keith Burns (ADMIT Services) / March 15, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Surely the title almost says it all. Giving heroin to heroin users is more cost-effective than methadone. But one thing it isn’t is treatment. Why is it that when there are highly effective and far cheaper abstinence based programmes do people persist in these now outdated crime reduction and harm miminmisation options? And I don’t believe they reduce crime by much or reduce harm; just look at the death rates amongst methadone users.

  12. Carlos / March 17, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    And AA is not treatment either, but we keep PUSHING it on to patients. Federal Courts keep concluding it is a 1st Amendment Violation and we keep being in denial. AA/NA is a fellowship and should had be kept that way instead of violating traditions 6th, 8th and 11th. The scientific evidence of AA/NAs safety and efficacy is sketchy at best. In essence is good for you but it does not seem to work for every body in this planet.

  13. Keith Burns (ADMIT Services) / March 15, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    Well said Karen

  14. Avatar of GennaX
    GennaX / March 17, 2012 at 1:17 am

    I’m sure everyone agrees that drug free is the preferred outcome for clients seeking help for heroin addiction. The fact is it is extremely difficult to come off – this is not something engineered by treatment programs and drug companies. Methadone is a poor substitute for heroin which is why it has a limited capacity to reduce drug crime. Buprenorphine works well for some but still falls short. Far better to treat long-term heroin addiction with heroin, acknowledge that stable heroin use is possible and expected, allow those addicts who are able to, work, and get them to contribute to the cost of their treatment. Many addicts find it easier to stop when they’re older. If you exclude people from society because of their addiction the journey for them, their families and society is much more costly and painful than it needs to be.

  15. GennaX / March 17, 2012 at 1:19 am

    Well said.

  16. GennaX / March 17, 2012 at 1:41 am

    I’m glad you’ve done so well but I’m sure you’re being facitious. I support giving heroin to long term addicts because I think it would be better for them and society, but being drug-free would always be preferable. Heroin changes how you look, you become less social, it makes you constipated, not to mention the money wasted. Surely you remember?

  17. Carlos / March 27, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    Doctor: Perhaps the problem is a republic (not a monarchy) that thinks has the right to tell individuals what to do with their bodies. Dr. Solomon Snyder, who with a graduate student discovered the Opiate Receptor in the brain, couldn’t find any problem with opiate users prior to the Harrison Act. No legal issues, no health problems, no destructions of relationships with families. I have wondered what he read.
    I truly wonder what the problem is. Which surely do not seem to have the answer or else it would’nt be an issue any more. We only argue things that we are not sure about. So instead we have an opinion.

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