, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 77–91 | Cite as

A randomised trial of the cost effectiveness of buprenorphine as an alternative to methadone maintenance treatment for heroin dependence in a primary care setting

  • Anthony H. HarrisEmail author
  • Elena Gospodarevskaya
  • Alison J. Ritter
Original Research Article


Background and aim: Buprenorphine offers an alternative to methadone in the treatment of heroin dependence, and has the advantage of allowing alternate-day dosing. This study is the first to examine the cost effectiveness of buprenorphine as maintenance treatment for heroin dependence in a primary care setting using economic and clinical data collected within a randomised trial.

Study design and methods: The study was a randomised, open-label, 12-month trial of 139 heroin-dependent patients in a community setting receiving individualised treatment regimens of buprenorphine or methadone. Those who were currently on a methadone program (n = 57; continuing therapy subgroup) were analysed separately from new treatment recipients (n = 82; initial therapy subgroup). The study took a broad societal perspective and included health, crime and personal costs. Data on resource use and outcomes were a combination of clinical records and self report at interview. The main outcomes were incremental cost per additional day free of heroin use and per QALY. An analysis of uncertainty calculated the likelihood of net benefits for a range of acceptable money values of outcomes. All costs were in 1999 Australian dollars ($A).

Results: The estimated mean number of heroin-free days did not differ significantly between those randomised to methadone (225 [95% CI 91, 266]), or buprenorphine (222 [95% CI 194, 250]) over the year of the trial. Buprenorphine was associated with an average 0.03 greater QALYs over 52 weeks (not significant). The total cost was $A17 736 (95% CI −$A2981, $A38 364) with methadone and $A11 916 (95% CI $A7697, $A16 135) with buprenorphine; costs excluding crime were $A4513 (95% CI $A3495, $A5531) and $A5651 (95% CI $A4202, $A7100). With additional heroin-free days as the outcome, and crime costs included buprenorphine has a lower cost but less heroin-free days. If crime costs are excluded buprenorphine has a higher cost and worse outcome than methadone. With additional QALYs as the outcome, the cost effectiveness of buprenorphine is $A39 404 if crime is excluded, but buprenorphine is dominant if crime is included.

Conclusions: The trial found no significant differences in costs or outcomes between methadone and buprenorphine maintenance in this particular setting. Although some of the results suggest that methadone may have a cost advantage, it is difficult to infer from the trial data that offering buprenorphine as an alternative would have a significant effect on total costs or outcomes. The point estimates of costs and outcomes suggest that buprenorphine may have an advantage in those initiating therapy. The confidence intervals were wide, however, and the likelihood of net benefits from substituting one treatment for another was close to 50%.


Heroin Buprenorphine Incremental Cost Effectiveness Ratio Methadone Maintenance Treatment Heroin Dependence 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This research was supported by a grant from the Victorian Government, Community Support Fund. Buprenorphine was supplied free of charge to the study by Reckitt Benckiser. The third author has received an educational grant from Reckitt Benckiser.


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Copyright information

© Adis Data Information BV 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anthony H. Harris
    • 1
    Email author
  • Elena Gospodarevskaya
    • 1
  • Alison J. Ritter
    • 2
  1. 1.Centre for Health Program EvaluationMonash UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Turning Point Alcohol & Drug CentreMelbourneAustralia

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