Feasibility and Outcomes of a Community-Based Taper-to-Low- Dose-Maintenance Suboxone Treatment Program for Prescription Opioid Dependence in a Remote First Nations Community in Northern Ontario
Objective: Non-medical prescription opioid use (NMPOU) is a major health problem in North America and increasingly prevalent among First Nations people. More than 50% of many Nishnawbe Aski Nation communities in northern Ontario report NMPOU, resulting in extensive health and social problems. Opioid substitution therapy (OST) is the most effective treatment for opioid dependence yet is unavailable in remote First Nations communities. Suboxone (buprenorphine and naloxone) specifically has reasonably good treatment outcomes for prescription opioid (PO) dependence. A pilot study examining the feasibility and outcomes of a community-based Suboxone taper-to-low-dose-maintenance program for PO-dependent adults was conducted in a small NAN community as a treatment option for this particular setting.
Design: Participants (N = 22, ages 16–48 years) were gradually stabilized on and tapered off Suboxone (provided on an outpatient and directly-observed basis) over a 30-day period. Low dose maintenance was offered post-taper to patients with continued craving and relapse risk; community-based aftercare was provided to all participants. Results: Of 22 participants, 21 (95%) completed the taper phase of the program. Fifteen (88%) of 17 participants tested by urine toxicology screening had no evidence of PO use on day 30. No adverse side effects were observed. All but one of the taper completers were continued on low-dose maintenance. Conclusion: Community-based Suboxone taper-to-low-dose-maintenance is feasible and effective as an initial treatment for PO-dependence in remote First Nations populations, although abstinence is difficult to achieve and longer term maintenance may be required. More research on OST for First Nations people is needed; existing OST options, however, should be made available to First Nations communities given the acute need for treatment.