Effectiveness and Safety of Low-Threshold Opioid-Agonist Treatment in Hard-To-Reach Populations with Opioid Dependence
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionEuropean Addiction Research, 2021. 10.1159/000520185
Objectives: Opioid-use disorder is related to premature death worldwide. Opioid-agonist treatment (OAT) is an effective treatment for opioid dependence. OAT delivery platforms may influence treatment access and outcomes, especially for the most vulnerable groups. The aim of this study was to determine the effectiveness and safety of low-threshold OAT compared to the standard treatment. Methods: Patients with diagnosed opioid dependence undergoing low-threshold OAT at the Bergen delivery platform in Norway were enrolled in a cohort study in 2014–2019. A national OAT cohort was the reference group. The main outcomes were treatment retention, the use of illicit opioids, non-fatal overdose, overdose death, and all-cause mortality during the first year following treatment initiation and the full treatment period. Additionally, healthcare utilization in the periods before and during OAT was investigated. Results: Compared to the reference cohort, the low-threshold cohort (n = 128, mean age: 38 years, women: 28%) showed treatment retention rates of 95% versus 92%, illicit opioid use of 7% versus 10%, non-fatal overdose of 7% versus 6%, and death at 1.0% versus 1.3%, respectively. The incident rate ratios (IRRs) for healthcare utilization increased substantially during the OAT period compared to the period before; the IRR increased by 3.3 (95% confidence interval (CI): 2.8, 3.9) and 3.4 (95% CI: 3.1, 3.9) for all in- and outpatient healthcare, respectively. Conclusions: Low-threshold OAT was at least as effective and safe as the standard OAT in terms of treatment retention, the use of illicit opioids, non-fatal overdose, and death. Healthcare utilization increased during the OAT compared to the period before. Lowering the threshold for OAT entrance within proper delivery platforms should be broadly considered to reduce harm and improve healthcare access among patients with opioid dependence.