Effects of high-dose heroin versus morphine in intravenous drug users: a randomised double-blind crossover study
Haemmig RB, Tschacher W.
Department of Social and Community Psychiatry,
University Psychiatric Services,
Bern, Switzerland.
J Psychoactive Drugs 2001 Apr-Jun; 33(2):105-10


The purpose of this study is to evaluate the effects of high doses of injected opiates as prescribed maintenance in intravenous drugs users. This was accomplished via a randomised double-blind study with crossover at an outpatient clinic in Bern, Switzerland. The subjects were 39 patients with a long history of intravenous opioid use and persistent abuse despite treatment; they were randomly allocated to two groups. Group A was started on controlled injection of graduated doses of morphine up to a satisfying individual dose and was then switched as a double blind to heroin at a randomly determined day between week three and four. Subsequently this group was given heroin for the remaining two to three weeks of the study. Group B was started on heroin and was then switched to morphine in the same manner. Equipotent solutions of 3% morphine and 2% heroin were administered. The main outcome measures were clinical observations, structural interviews and self report of subjective experiences to assess the effects of the drugs. In 16 cases, the study had to be discontinued owing to severe morphine-induced histamine reactions. Thirteen participants in Group B presented these adverse reactions on the day of the switch-over. Full data were thus only obtainable for 17 participants. Average daily doses were 491 mg for heroin and 597 mg for morphine. The findings indicate that heroin significantly produced a lower grade of itching, flushing, urticaria and pain/nausea. A negative correlation between dose and euphoria was observed for both heroin and morphine. The authors concluded that as heroin produces fewer side effects it is the preferred high-dose maintenance prescription to morphine. The perceived euphoric effects are limited in both substances.
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