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Outcomes of treatment of socially rehabilitated methadone maintenance patients in physicians’ offices (medical maintenance)

Follow-up at three and a half to nine and a fourth years


Objective: To determine whether selected socially rehabilitated former heroin addicts maintained on methadone can continue successful rehabilitation while maintained on methadone by primary care physicians rather than licensed clinics. This procedure has been termed “medical maintenance.”

Design: Cohort study with 42–111 months of follow-up.

Setting: Offices of hospital staff physicians (internists or family practitioners).

Patients: The 100 patients met extensive entry criteria, including five or more years in conventional methadone maintenance treatment; stable employment or other productive activity; verifiable financial support; and no criminal involvement, use of illegal drugs, or excessive alcohol use within three or more years.

Measurements and main results: Outcome measures used were retention in treatment, discharge for one of several reasons, lost medication incidents, and substance abuse. At one, two, and three years of treatment, 98, 95, and 85 patients, respectively, remained in medical maintenance. Cumulative proportional survival in treatment was 0.735±0.048 at five years and 0.562±0.084 at nine years. After 42–111 months, 72 patients remained in good standing; 15 patients had unfavorable discharges (11 for cocaine use, three for misuse of medication, and one for administrative violations); seven voluntarily withdrew from methadone in good standing (after receiving it for 91–24.4 years); four died; one transferred to a chronic care facility; and one voluntarily left the program.

Conclusions: Carefully selected methadone maintenance patients in medical maintenance have a high retention rate and a low incidence of substance abuse and lost medication. Voluntary withdrawal from methadone maintenance after one or two decades is possible. The authors believe that medical maintenance should be made available to appropriate patients in other localities.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to David M. Novick MD.

Additional information

Supported in part by a grant from the Herbert and Nell Singer Philanthropic Fund of the Jewish Communal Fund, New York, NY, and by National Institute on Drug Abuse Treatment Research Center grant no. 1P50-DAO513.

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Novick, D.M., Joseph, H., Salsitz, E.A. et al. Outcomes of treatment of socially rehabilitated methadone maintenance patients in physicians’ offices (medical maintenance). J Gen Intern Med 9, 127–130 (1994).

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Key words

  • substance abuse
  • methadone
  • opiates
  • heroin
  • medical maintenance
  • methadone maintenance