Pubdate: Mon, 24 Jul 2000
Source: South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)
Copyright: 2000 South China Morning Post Publishers Limited.
Author: Michelle Chak


A medicine used as a painkiller has a near total success rate in helping
heroin addicts quit and could become a replacement for methadone,
researchers have reported.

Dr Dominic Lee Tak-shing, an associate professor at the Chinese University's
department of psychiatry, co-ordinated the study, which found that
buprenorphine worked on 109 out of 110 addicts. The trial involved patients
at the new Caritas Wong Yiu Nam Drug Abusers' Rehabilitation Centre, which
opened in April.

The success rate of methadone treatment in Hong Kong is about 70 per cent,
but the figures do not take into account those who relapse over a period of
time after treatment.

Dr Lee said the subjects were free of addiction after three days of
treatment, which costs $100 per patient, and showed milder degrees of
withdrawal symptoms such as vomiting, pain in the bones and tiredness. The
methadone treatment takes three weeks.

But like methadone, improper use of buprenorphine, approved by the US Food
and Drug Administration, can lead to dependence. The study also found two
other drugs, clonidine and naltrexone, to be ineffective.

Dr Lee and the International Drug Abuse Treatment Foundation plan to study a
number of traditional Chinese medicinal products for drug addiction in a
joint project to improve rehabilitation in Hong Kong. They will first study
a Chinese product, made from about 20 herbal ingredients and available in
capsules, next month. It will be tested on 30 heroin or methadone abusers
and is expected to work in seven to 10 days.

"We look to traditional Chinese medicine for means which can be cheaper,
more effective and less painful, and ideally, non-addictive," Dr Lee said.
He added that an estimated 10 types of Chinese pharmaceutical products could
be used to treat addiction. They could be bought over the counter and some
were being used in mainland rehabilitation centres, but there was no
guarantee of their safety or effectiveness, he said.
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