Introduction: Research suggests that methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) effectively reduces opiate dependence and related health and social problems. However, few studies have examined its effectiveness among the elderly. This study examined a monthly MMT regime for elderly opium addicts attending the National Addictions Management Service, Singapore.Materials and Methods: This study used a cross-sectional design and comprised 40 patients attending the addiction service and 40 caregivers who monitored methadone consumption (mostly patients’ sons and daughters). Participants completed a semi-structured interview comprising measures of opiate craving and withdrawal, physical and psychological health. Objective measures were urine drug screens and blood tests.Results: Participants who averaged 74.8 years old had been using opium for around 44 years and had been in MMT for an average of 35 months. The maintenance dose of methadone was 9.2 mg/day. At interview, no opiate usage (other than methadone) was detected in urine screens; however, clinical records indicated that 6 had tested positive during the previous 6 months of MMT. No major withdrawal symptoms, side effects, or incidents of diversion were reported. Quality-of-life scores were in the normal range and satisfaction with the treatment regime was expressed by caregivers.Conclusion: Whilst MMT is the predominant pharmacotherapy for opiate dependence for users of all ages elsewhere, our study group constitutes a unique population that differs markedly from younger opiate users who will eventually grow old. In Singapore, MMT appears to be an effective treatment for stable, elderly opium-dependent patients where families are fully engaged in the treatment regime.
The misuse of illicit opiates remains a global problem, placing a heavy burden on society. Literature on the effectiveness of opiate substitution pharmacotherapies in reducing consumption of illegal drug use, criminal activities, injecting and sharing behaviours, the spread of blood-borne diseases and mortality, now spans several decades and countries.
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