The duration dilemma in opioid agonist therapy


  • Anjali Dhanda, MD
  • Edwin A. Salsitz, MD, DFASAM



opioid agonist therapy, opioid maintenance treatment duration, methadone maintenance treatment, buprenorphine maintenance treatment


Objective: Studies dating back to 1964 consistently support the effectiveness of methadone as a maintenance treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD), and since 2003, the effectiveness of buprenorphine. Short-term detoxification has not proven to be an effective treatment, as it results in high relapse rates when compared with maintenance treatment with an opioid agonist therapy (OAT). The question about the duration of maintenance treatment for OUD has been debated with recommendations ranging from a minimum of 1 year, 2 years, to indefinitely. Other factors such as misconceptions, regulations, and insurance barriers also have an impact on the duration dilemma of OAT.

Design: There were no a priori criteria for article inclusion and this is not a structured literature review. It is a review of articles of convenience from 1964 to 2018.

Main outcome measure: This paper aims to address the dilemma of the ideal duration of OAT and to discuss the factors that could affect this decision.

Results: Sustained OAT has had significantly better long-term outcomes than short-term detoxification or time limited maintenance. Optimal outcomes are dependent on adequate treatment duration.

Conclusions: Addiction is a chronic brain disease and its treatment should be similar to the treatment of other chronic medical and psychiatric diseases. Long-term, sometimes lifetime, continuation of OAT for the treatment of OUD results in optimal outcomes when measuring morbidity and mortality. The accumulated evidence does not support any arbitrary limitation to the duration of OAT.


Author Biographies

Anjali Dhanda, MD

Cornell Scott Hill Health Center, Ansonia, Connecticut

Edwin A. Salsitz, MD, DFASAM

Psychiatry, Division of Chemical Dependency, Mount Sinai Beth Israel, New York City, New York


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How to Cite

Dhanda, MD, A., and E. A. Salsitz, MD, DFASAM. “The Duration Dilemma in Opioid Agonist Therapy”. Journal of Opioid Management, vol. 17, no. 4, July 2021, pp. 353-8, doi:10.5055/jom.2021.0668.



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