New study shows increased accessibility to methadone treatment through primary care decreases spread of HIV

VANCOUVER, Aug. 10, 2015 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- As British Columbia's methadone maintenance program comes under provincial review, a new study by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE) highlights major benefits of methadone in Vancouver. The study, published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet HIV shows a link between increased access to methadone for injection drug users and a decrease in the spread of HIV in this population.

While methadone is restricted in many areas of the world, British Columbia's program is unique in that medication can be prescribed by primary care physicians and dispensed through community pharmacies similar to other medications.

The study, Effect of low-threshold methadone maintenance therapy for people who inject drugs on HIV incidence in Vancouver, BC, Canada: an observational study, examined the effect of methadone maintenance therapy on HIV rates, using data from the U.S. National Institutes of Health-funded Vancouver Injection Drug Users Study (VIDUS).

"Those individuals in the study who were not prescribed methadone were almost four times more likely to become HIV positive," said study lead Dr. Keith Ahamad, an addiction medicine physician and BC-CfE Clinician Scientist. "This study not only increases the evidence base for methadone to treat opioid use disorders and decrease the spread of HIV, it also highlights the importance of primary care physicians in treating substance use disorders."

"These findings are particularly important in light of recent outbreaks of HIV infection among opioid users where methadone treatment is either illegal or difficult to access such as recent outbreaks in the U.S. and Europe," said study senior author Dr. Evan Wood, the medical director of addiction services at Vancouver Coastal Health and Providence Health Care. "While our team universally agrees with the need to improve British Columbia's methadone program, the study reinforces the benefits of low threshold methadone on public health goals such as reducing the spread of HIV."

Data was derived from 1,639 HIV-negative injection drug users, recruited between May 1996 and May 2013. To qualify, participants had to test HIV negative at the start of the study and to return to the study office to assess for newly acquired HIV. During this time, 138 individuals became HIV positive, the vast majority not taking methadone during the study period.

Dr. Ahamad added, "These findings reinforce the opportunity to improve addiction treatment by improving the overall approach to treating opioid addiction in B.C. This requires improvement to the methadone program, but also expanding the diversity of evidence-based treatment options for people struggling with opioid addiction."

About the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS

The BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE) is Canada's largest HIV/AIDS research, treatment and education facility and is internationally recognized as an innovative world leader in combating HIV/AIDS and related diseases. BC-CfE is based at St. Paul's Hospital, Providence Health Care, a teaching hospital of the University of British Columbia. The BC-CfE works in close collaboration with key provincial stakeholders, including government, health authorities, health care providers, academics from other institutions, and the community to decrease the health burden of HIV and AIDS. By developing, monitoring and disseminating comprehensive research and treatment programs for HIV and related illnesses, the BC-CfE helps improve the health of British Columbians.

For additional information or to request interviews, please contact:
Diane Pépin
Cell: 604-653-5673
Phone: 604-682-2344 ext. 63149

A photo accompanying this release is available at:

CONTACT: Diane Pepin BC-CfE Cell: 604-653-5673 Phone: 604-682-2344 ext. 63149 Email: dpepin@cfenet.ubc.caSource:B.C. Centre for Excellencein HIV/AIDS..