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Research Finds Drug to Treat Heroin Addicts

By Robert J. Campbell

Two Harvard psychiatrists reported this week that the drug buprenorphine may be a safer and more effective treatment for heroin addiction than the drugs currently used.

Dr. Jack H. Mendelson, professor of Psychiatry, and Dr. Nancy K. Mello, associate professor of Psychology, reported in Science magazine that ten heroin addicts voluntarily reduced their heroin consumption by 69 to 98 per cent after using buprenorphine.

Moreover, "No subject complained of opiate withdrawal symptoms and no with-drawal symptoms were observed," the report said.

Mendelson and Mello conducted a 40-day study at McLean Hospital in Belmont of ten male volunteers who had used heroin for an average of ten years and had failed to quit after treatment with the two drugs currently used, methadone and naltrexone.

Pins and Needles

The subjects received injections of either buprenorphine or a placebo.

They could receive a heroin injection if they performed a simple 90-minute task. All those who had received the placebo injection chose to perform the task and injected from 93 to 100 per cent of the heroin available to them. The volunteers who received buprenorphine injections used only 2 to 31 per cent of the available heroin.


After injecting buprenorphine, the ten subjects reported 'a generalized feeling of contentment" and "indicated that it was preferable to methadone or naltrexone," the researchers said.

Methadone, currently the most popular treatment among heroin addicts, produces "positive subjective effects" but can induce physical dependence and lead to a lethal overdose, the report said. Naltrexone, although less addictive and dangerous, does not duplicate the emotional effects of heroin, it continued.


Although acknowledging that "further research will be required," the report said buprenorphine appears to combine the emotional advantages of methadone and the physical advantages of naltrexone.

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