Drug detention centers ineffective at treating opioid addiction, study finds

Patients suffering from opioid abuse disorders are more likely to relapse — and relapse sooner — if they are treated in a compulsory drug detention center versus a voluntary rehabilitation program equipped with evidence-based therapies, according to a new study published in The Lancet Global Health.

Compulsory drug detention centers are common in East and Southeast Asia. Approximately 600,000 people are detained annually for suspected drug abuse across these regions. The centers are similar to prisons in that they house concentrated populations of drug abusers, disrupt patients' social and work networks, and contribute to high levels of relapse, overdose and blood-borne virus infections.

For the study, researchers compared data on 89 opioid abusers treated at compulsory centers and 95 opioid abusers treated in voluntary rehabilitation centers. All centers were located in Malaysia.

Thirty days after their release, just 51 percent of those treated at compulsory centers were opioid-free, while 90 percent of individuals treated at voluntary centers remained clean. After six months, 19 percent of those treated in detention centers were opioid-free and 69 percent of individuals voluntarily rehabilitated were not abusing opioids.

"Our findings strongly support international calls to eliminate compulsory drug detention centers by showing that they are ineffective in treating drug dependence, especially for those who use opioids," said Frederick Altice, MD, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., and one of the study's authors. "Countries using these measures should instead increase the availability of proven opioid-agonist therapies, such as methadone, and ensure there is adequate access to voluntary treatment programs in community settings and facilitate people with opioid addiction to seek treatment."

More articles on opioids: 
1 in 3 long-term opioid users say they're addicted: 3 survey takeaways 
CDC: Heroin overdose deaths surpass gun homicides for first time 
Electronic prescribing for high-risk meds may contribute to patient falls among elderly

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