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A Nonopioid Procedure for Outpatient Opioid Detoxification

Ockert, David M. PhD; Volpicelli, Joseph R. MD, PhD; Baier, Armin R. Jr JD, MSW; Coons, Edgar E. PhD; Fingesten, Alexandra MD

Journal of Addiction Medicine: June 2011 - Volume 5 - Issue 2 - p 110-114
doi: 10.1097/ADM.0b013e3181e518cc
Original Research

Objectives: (1) To describe a new protocol using nonopioid medications (clonidine, lorazepam, trazodone, and a stimulant) to successfully complete outpatient opioid detoxification, (2) to determine clinical and demographic characteristics of patients who successfully complete an outpatient opioid detoxification, and (3) to determine the safety and clinical utility of the use of this combination of medications in the treatment of opioid withdrawal.

Methods: In a posthoc evaluation study in a New York State-licensed outpatient detoxification unit of a substance abuse treatment facility, 223 heroin-dependent adults presenting for treatment were provided outpatient opioid detoxification. In the course of the opioid detoxification protocol of the facility, patients received clonidine, lorazepam, trazodone, and either a stimulant (methylphenidate or modafinil) or no stimulant, in combination on a daily basis. At each daily visit, signs and symptoms were assessed, and medications and dosing instructions were given for the following 24 hours. On completion of the detoxification protocol, patients were induced with oral naltrexone.

Results: Overall, 61.0% (136) of the patients in this study successfully completed the outpatient detoxification protocol and were induced with naltrexone. Pretreatment demographic variables that predicted successful treatment included full-time employment, family support, private medical insurance, and referral by an employee assistance program. About 77% of patients with good prognosis successfully completed outpatient detoxification treatment. The addition of a stimulant improved patient retention and reduced the incidence of hypotension.

Conclusions: The outpatient detoxification of opioid-dependent patients without the use of opioids has traditionally led to such high drop out rates that most clinical programs do not even consider the option. This makes it difficult to induce patients with opioid antagonists such as oral naltrexone or sustained release naltrexone. We describe a protocol here that leads to excellent rates of successful detoxification. This nonopioid detoxification methodology permits induction of naltrexone without the delay experienced in opioid-based titrations, and it thus facilitates the use of opioid antagonists for sustained abstinence, enhanced aftercare treatment outcomes, and opioid-free recovery.

From the Parallax Center, Inc. (DO, AB, AF), New York, NY; Institute of Addiction Medicine, Inc. (JV), Philadelphia, PA; and Department of Psychology, Faculty of Arts and Science, New York University (EC), New York, NY.

Received for publication September 9, 2009; accepted December 14, 2009.

Send correspondence and reprint requests to David Ockert, PhD, Parallax Center, Inc., 145 E. 32nd Street, 6th Floor, New York, NY. e-mail:

© 2011 American Society of Addiction Medicine