Background: To improve the delivery of health services for chronic medical conditions in our methadone clinic, we added an onsite health screening and brief health counseling to the treatment plans for patients receiving methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center. We then conducted a follow-up retrospective chart review to assess whether this intervention improved health outcome for those patients.
Methods: We reviewed the charts of 102 patients who received treatment at Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center methadone clinic between 2002 and 2008. We sought to determine whether our increased health education and screening intervention were associated with (1) improved drug addiction outcome (as measured by comparing percentage of opiate and cocaine positive drug screens from admission with most recent). (2) Basic health screening (as measured by the patient’s compliance with primary care physician appointments and current smoking status). (3) Management of co-occurring medical conditions (as measured by levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, hemoglobin A1c, and systolic blood pressure). (4) Presence of QT interval corrected (QTc) prolongation (difference in QTc between baseline and most recent electrokardiogram).
Results: Illicit drug use (opiate and cocaine) markedly decreased in patients overall. The effect was more robust for those successfully “retained” (n = 55, P < 0.0001) in treatment, compared with those who “dropped out” (n = 40, P = 0.05) of treatment. Compliance with primary care physician appointments was high (82% and 88% before and after the onsite intervention, respectively) for retained patients. Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol level was within normal range for all patients. A1c improved by 40% after the onsite intervention as reflected by the decreased percentage of patients with A1c >7% from before to after the intervention (90% vs 50%, P = 0.05). However, the prevalence of uncontrolled hypertension did not significantly improve after the onsite intervention (38% vs 28%, P = 0.34). As might be expected with MMT, the prevalence of QTc prolongation actually increased from 399 (±92) to 439 (±22) milliseconds after the onsite intervention (P = 0.003).
Conclusions: Our retrospective study supports the previous literature that methadone maintenance therapy is effective in reducing illicit drug use. Although patients with history of heroin dependence and in MMT are at increased risk for chronic medical conditions, such as hepatitis C and diabetes, there are minimal federal guidelines for medical care, except than a physical examination on admission, and basic screening for some infectious diseases, eg, HIV and hepatitis C for those patients. Our study demonstrated the need for and potential benefit of enhancing the delivery of health promotion services for chronic medical conditions in methadone maintained patients. Improving management of hepatitis C, diabetes, hypertension, and other related conditions, in this high risk, difficult-to-treat, and underserved population may reduce their morbidity and premature mortality.