Impact of treatment for opioid dependence on fatal drug-related poisoning: a national cohort study in England

Matthias Pierce, Sheila M Bird, Matthew Hickman, John Marsden, Graham Dunn, Andrew Jones, Tim Millar

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    AIMS: To compare the change in illicit opioid users' risk of fatal drug-related poisoning (DRP) associated with opioid agonist pharmacotherapy (OAP) and psychological support, and investigate the modifying effect of patient characteristics, criminal justice system (CJS) referral and treatment completion.

    DESIGN: National data linkage cohort study of the English National Drug Treatment Monitoring System and the Office for National Statistics national mortality database. Data were analysed using survival methods.

    SETTING: All services in England that provide publicly funded, structured treatment for illicit opioid users.

    PARTICIPANTS: Adults treated for opioid dependence during April 2005 to March 2009: 151,983 individuals; 69% male; median age 32.6 with 442,950 person-years of observation.

    MEASUREMENTS: The outcome was fatal DRP occurring during periods in or out of treatment, with adjustment for age, gender, substances used, injecting status and CJS referral.

    FINDINGS: There were 1499 DRP deaths [3.4 per 1000 person-years, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 3.2-3.6]. DRP risk increased while patients were not enrolled in any treatment [adjusted hazard ratio (aHR) = 1.73, 95% CI = 1.55-1.92]. Risk when enrolled only in a psychological intervention was double that during OAP (aHR = 2.07, 95% CI = 1.75-2.46). The increased risk when out of treatment was greater for men (aHR = 1.88, 95% CI = 1.67-2.12), illicit drug injectors (aHR = 2.27, 95% CI = 1.97-2.62) and those reporting problematic alcohol use (aHR = 2.37, 95% CI = 1.90-2.98).

    CONCLUSIONS: Patients who received only psychological support for opioid dependence in England appear to be at greater risk of fatal opioid poisoning than those who received opioid agonist pharmacotherapy.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)298-308
    Number of pages11
    Issue number2
    Early online dateNov 2015
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2016


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