Alpha2 adrenergic agonists for the management
of opioid withdrawal (Cochrane Review)

Gowing L, Farrell M, Ali R, White J.
Evidence-Based Practice Unit, Drug and Alcohol Services Council,
161 Greenhill Road, Parkside, SA,
Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2001;1:CD002024


BACKGROUND: Withdrawal (detoxification) is necessary prior to drug-free treatment. It may also represent the end point of long-term treatment such as methadone maintenance. The availability of managed withdrawal is essential to an effective treatment system. OBJECTIVES: To assess the effectiveness of interventions involving the use of alpha2 adrenergic agonists (clonidine, lofexidine, guanfacine, guanabenz acetate) to manage the acute phase of opioid withdrawal. SEARCH STRATEGY: Multiple electronic databases were systematically searched. Reference lists of retrieved studies, reviews and conference abstracts were handsearched and relevant pharmaceutical companies contacted. SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised or quasi-randomised controlled trials that compared alpha2 adrenergic agonists with another form of treatment (or placebo) to modify the signs and symptoms of withdrawal in participants who were primarily opioid dependent. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: One reviewer assessed studies for inclusion and undertook data extraction. Inclusion decisions and the overall process were confirmed by consultation between all four reviewers. MAIN RESULTS: Twenty-four studies, involving 1956 participants, were included. Nineteen were randomised controlled trials; in two allocation was by participant choice, one used alternate allocation and in two the method of allocation was unclear. Ten studies compared a treatment regime based on an alpha2 adrenergic agonist with one based on reducing doses of methadone. Diversity in study design, assessment and reporting of outcomes limited the extent of quantitative analysis. From the comparison of alpha2 adrenergic agonist regimes with reducing doses of methadone, withdrawal intensity is similar to, or marginally greater with alpha2 adrenergic agonists, but signs and symptoms of withdrawal occur and resolve earlier in treatment. Participants stay in treatment longer with methadone. The likelihood of completing withdrawal is similar, or slightly less, with clonidine or lofexidine. Clonidine is associated with more adverse effects (low blood pressure, dizziness, dry mouth, lack of energy) than reducing doses of methadone. Lofexidine does not reduce blood pressure to the same extent as clonidine, but is otherwise similar to clonidine. REVIEWER'S CONCLUSIONS: Treatment regimes based on the alpha2 adrenergic agonists clonidine and lofexidine, and those based on reducing doses of methadone over a period of around 10 days, have similar efficacy in the management of withdrawal from heroin or methadone. Participants stay in treatment longer with methadone regimes and experience less adverse effects. The lower incidence of hypotension makes lofexidine more suited to use in outpatient settings than lofexidine. There are insufficient data available to support a conclusion on the efficacy of guanfacine.
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Utopian Surgery?
The Abolitionist Project
The Hedonistic Imperative
The Reproductive Revolution
Critique of Huxley's Brave New World

The Good Drug Guide
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The Responsible Parent's Guide
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