Aim The aim of this study is to define the efficacy of dihydrocodeine as an alternative to methadone in the maintenance treatment of opiate dependence.
Design A pragmatic open-label randomized controlled study of patients recommended for opiate maintenance treatment to test equivalence of the two treatment options with follow-up continuing for up to 42 months after recruitment.
Setting Assessment at either Edinburgh’s Community Drug Problem Service or at two general practitioner practices with specialist drug community psychiatric nurses, then with shared care follow-up.
Participants Two hundred and thirty-five subjects (168 male, 67 female) with opiate dependence syndrome were recruited. Subjects selected were suitable for opiate maintenance treatment. Routine treatment was offered throughout.
Intervention Patients were randomized to receive either methadone mixture 1 mg/ml or dihydrocodeine, 30 mg or 60 mg tablets.
Measurements The primary outcome measure was retention in treatment. Eight secondary outcomes included total illicit opiate use, reported crime, physical health, mental health, injecting drug use, overdoses, selling drugs and being in education or work. Measures were compared over 42 months follow-up.
Findings There was no difference in groups for retention in treatment at follow-up and there was improvement in all secondary outcomes from baseline. No significant difference in outcomes was found between randomized groups over time. Compliance with randomized treatment differed by randomized group and was affected by experiences in custody during follow-up. Those randomized to dihydrocodeine were more likely to switch treatments.
Conclusions These results, combined with existing clinical experience, provide evidence that dihydrocodeine is a viable alternative to methadone as a maintenance treatment for opiate dependence. Indirect comparisons with other studies show dihydrocodeine (and methadone) to be superior to placebo.