Australia: Suicides, Overdoses Linked To Detox Drug
Newshawk: krusse23
Pubdate: Wed, 06 Jun 2001
Source: Courier-Mail, The (Australia)
Copyright: 2001 News Limited
Authors: Catriona Mathewson, Sean Parnell


A CONFIDENTIAL briefing paper on national trials of the heroin detoxification drug naltrexone has revealed alarming rates of overdose and suicide among those receiving treatment.

The paper, prepared for Queensland Health Minister Wendy Edmond by senior health bureaucrat Dr Alun Richards, contains details of a draft report on the trials.

Queensland participated in the trials of oral naltrexone treatment and submitted results to the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, which will officially release its findings next month.

Details of the research came yesterday as the Medical Board continued its investigation into Brisbane doctor Stuart Reece's use of controversial naltrexone implants.

Premier Peter Beattie issued a veiled attack on federal health authorities for not probing the unauthorised use of implants before his Government initiated the Medical Board investigation.

Mr Beattie, who conceded he had not been fully briefed on the investigation, said there were "difficulties" in the relationship between state and federal health authorities.

But he said the implants were only approved for trial purposes in Perth, and had federal health authorities prevented the implants being used in Queensland the investigation "would never have happened."

"I understand there are emotional issues involved and I understand the role of the Medical Board," Mr Beattie said.

"But if the Medical Board wasn't moving to protect lives, then everyone . . . would be belting the Government, and quite rightly."

A Therapeutic Goods Administration spokeswoman yesterday refused to detail any investigation into the implants, whether importation would be restricted or whether an application had been made to allow their use in Australia.

Board president Dr Lloyd Toft said yesterday it was hoped the investigation into Dr Reece would be completed within two months.

While Dr Reece has been banned from using naltrexone implants, he may still prescribe oral naltrexone, which has been evaluated in the trials.

The confidential briefing paper shows the trials found naltrexone detoxification was widely associated with a higher death rate than other methods of treatment.

However, it did concede that naltrexone showed good results when patients continued taking the drug, with Dr Richards stating: "Where patients have died after using naltrexone it is usually because they have stopped taking the drug and have reverted to using heroin."

The paper stated that national trial results showed naltrexone treatment was associated with a heroin overdose rate ( both fatal and non-fatal ) of 46.3 per 1000, against a rate of 2.2 non-fatal overdoses per 1000 for methadone. Four out of 454 patients on naltrexone died during the study.

It also found the highest rate of "suicide-related events" ( 6.6 per 1000 patients ) with naltrexone

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