Examine rate and causes of death among patients discharged from methadone maintenance, relate them to reasons for discharge, and discuss treatment implications.
Naturalistic study of deaths and causes of death among 636 opioid-dependent veterans treated with methadone maintenance between January 1, 2000 and August 31, 2002.
Among 456 patients who remained on methadone, 31 (6.8%) died (1 overdose, 1 accident, 13 liver problems, 16 other medical). Among 180 discharged patients, 34 (18.8%) died. Reasons for discharge and causes of death were: continuing drug use (N = 52), 11 deaths (4 overdoses, 4 liver problems, 3 other medical); other disciplinary problems (N = 31), 8 deaths (2 suicides, 2 overdoses, 3 other medical, 1 unknown); other reasons (N = 97), 15 deaths (2 suicides, 1 overdose, 1 accident, 7 liver problems, 3 other medical, 1 unknown). Deaths were significantly less (P < 0.05) among patients who remained on methadone than in each category of those discharged. Follow-up interviews of 99 of 146 discharged patients showed problems in drug use, medical, employment, and psychiatric areas, and that only 21% were in treatment.
These findings are consistent with a previous study from the same program, and also from other studies, showing that participating in methadone maintenance reduces mortality. Considered in light of the increased mortality among patients discharged for continuing drug use or behavioral problems, these data suggest that premature mortality can be reduced by keeping patients in treatment and/or taking steps to ensure that discharged patients are promptly enrolled in another program.