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Retention of patients in opioid substitution treatment: a systematic review.

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posted on 31.08.2020, 10:26 authored by Aisling O'ConnorAisling O'Connor, Grainne CousinsGrainne Cousins, Louise Durand, Joe Barry, Fiona BolandFiona Boland

Background: Retention in opioid substitution (OST) treatment is associated with substantial reductions in all cause and overdose mortality. This systematic review aims to identify both protective factors supporting retention in OST, and risk factors for treatment dropout.

Methods: A systematic search was performed using MEDLINE, Embase, PsycInfo, CINAHL and Web of Science (January 2001 to October 2019). Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and observational cohort studies reporting on retention rates and factors associated with retention in OST were included. Factors associated with treatment retention and dropout were explored according to the Maudsley Addiction Profile. A narrative synthesis is provided.

Results: 67 studies were included in this review (4 RCTs and 63 observational cohort studies; N = 294,592), all assessing factors associated with retention in OST or treatment dropout. The median retention rate across observational studies was approximately 57% at 12 months, which fell to 38.4% at three years. Studies included were heterogeneous in nature with respect to treatment setting, type of OST, risk factor assessment, ascertainment of outcome and duration of follow-up. While the presence of such methodological heterogeneity makes it difficult to synthesise results, there is limited evidence to support the influence of a number of factors on retention, including age, substance use, OST drug dose, legal issues, and attitudes to OST.

Conclusions: Younger age, substance use particularly cocaine and heroin use, lower doses of methadone, criminal activity/incarceration, and negative attitudes to MMT appear to be associated with reduced retention in OST. A consensus definition of retention is required to allow for comparability across future studies.


Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (Strategic Academic Recruitment Programme 2037E)

Health Research Board (HRA-PHR-2015-1088)



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O'Connor AM, Cousins G, Durand L, Barry J, Boland F. Retention of patients in opioid substitution treatment: a systematic review. 2020; PLoS ONE 15(5):e0232086

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  • School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences
  • Data Science Centre




  • Published Version (Version of Record)