THE Kingdom’s new methadone clinic for heroin users is set to open today after a soft launch beginning in July that officials say has led to marked improvements in patients’ health and responses to treatment.
Chhit Sophal, the head of the clinic, which aims to reach 100 patients by the end of the year, said yesterday that 61 had enrolled in the methadone programme since it began on July 1, and that most seemed to have benefited from it.
“Patients looked pale and weak. After the treatment, they are speaking well, and eating well,” he said. “They are injecting less than before. Before, they used to inject four times a day, now sometimes it is not at all.”
The programme, referred to as Methadone Maintenance Therapy, replaces heroin with controlled doses of methadone, a synthetic opioid that has similar effects. Proponents say MMT allows drug users to stabilise their lives and decreases the risk of HIV transmission through use of shared needles.
On Sunday, Graham Shaw, a World Health Organisation technical adviser on drug use who designed the pilot programme for methadone therapy, said a heroin user participating in the programme had died. Officials have been unable to determine whether the death was methadone-related.
Yesterday, Shaw said the success of the soft launch could be measured by the high number of people who wanted to enrol as well as the low dropout rate. “NGOs are reporting that more and more people want on the list,” he said. “There are also links being made between a decrease in HIV and tuberculosis transmission, which is good.”
He said the international average dropout rate for patients enrolled in similar methadone programs is 30 percent. During the soft launch, just four failed to complete the treatment.
Patients are considered dropouts if they have missed more than four straight days of doses, at which point they need to “start from scratch” and be reassessed, Shaw said.