BACKGROUND Supervised injectable heroin (SIH) treatment has emerged over the past 15 years as an intensive treatment for entrenched heroin users who have not responded to standard treatments such as oral methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) or residential rehabilitation.
AIMS To synthesise published findings for treatment with SIH for refractory heroin-dependence through systematic review and meta-analysis, and to examine the political and scientific response to these findings.
METHOD Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of SIH treatment were identified through database searching, and random effects pooled efficacy was estimated for SIH treatment. Methodological quality was assessed according to criteria set out by the Cochrane Collaboration.
RESULTS Six RCTs met the inclusion criteria for analysis. Across the trials, SIH treatment improved treatment outcome, i.e. greater reduction in the use of illicit 'street' heroin in patients receiving SIH treatment compared with control groups (most often receiving MMT).
CONCLUSIONS SIH is found to be an effective way of treating heroin dependence refractory to standard treatment. SIH may be less safe than MMT and therefore requires more clinical attention to manage greater safety issues. This intensive intervention is for a patient population previously considered unresponsive to treatment. Inclusion of this low-volume, high-intensity treatment can now improve the impact of comprehensive healthcare provision.