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New heroin treatment could save lives and money: Vancouver study

Addicts on hydromorphone more likely to stay in treatment
New heroin treatment could save lives and money, Vancouver study says.

For those with severe addictions to opioids, methadone has become the go-to treatment option. But a new treatment option, injectable hydromorphone, could be the key to reducing mortality and save costs for society, says a Vancouver study published in journal Addiction this week.

According to the study, on average, hydromorphone treatment provides individuals with three more additional years of life compared to methadone alone and it could save society $140,000 per individual over a lifetime.

“Our results suggest that injectable hydromorphone, a legally approved pain-management drug, reduce mortality, increase the quality of life and saves overall costs when compared to methadone alone,” lead author Dr. Nick Bansback, associate professor at the UBC School of Population and Public Health said in a press release.

The project, Study to Assess Longer-term Opioid Medication Effectiveness (SALMOE), was led by Providence Health Care, the Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences and the University of British Columbia. It was a follow-up study to North American Opiate Medication Initiative, the first clinical trial of prescription heroin used for heroin treatment in North America.

In the study, researchers compared the economic results of 202 individuals in the SALMOE trial and used the findings to project the risk of mortality and costs in treatment, crime involvement and other health care utilization.

“The goal of everything we are doing is to save more lives and connect more people to treatment and recovery services as soon as possible,” Judy Darcy, minister of mental health and addictions said in a press release.

Even though the direct cost of hydromorphone is higher than methadone, the study found the costs could be saved as patients treated with injectable hydromorphone were more likely to stay in treatment which will reduce their use of illegal drugs and other illegal activity.

The study also mentioned that hydromorphone is already a licensed opioid and therefore is easier to implement as a treatment option.

“The results are similar between hydromorphone and diacetylmorphine, but since hydromorphone is already a licensed opioid, this might be a more straightforward treatment to implement,” Dr. Bansback added.