India:  Methadone Maintenance Treatment proves feasible and effective

Building drug treatment capacities and options has been one of UNODC's key working areas in South Asia. This includes the pioneering of treatment options for people dependent on opioids.  Methadone Maintenance Treatment (MMT) is one such option that improves the physical and mental health of those dependent on opioids, allows to reintegrate them back into their families and in many cases also helps to quit drugs completely.

In 2012, UNODC in partnership with the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC), All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi initiated a pilot project on MMT in India. The pilot was implemented in collaboration with five hospitals in four different states, the Civil Hospitals in Kapurthala and Bathinda in Punjab, King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital in Mumbai, Maharashtra, the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) in Imphal, Manipur and NDDTC, AIIMS in New Delhi.

Over a period of two years, the implementation of MMT at the five sites was studied and documented with the aim of assessing the feasibility as well as its   effectiveness.

The study revealed that MMT has been effective in the Indian setting with a compliance rate of 90.8 percent among those in treatment.  Once on treatment, patients reported that withdrawal symptoms had seized after two - four weeks. Furthermore, around 80 percent of the patients reported that they had stopped using any opioid by the time they had completed three months on treatment.  Both patients and their family members found the treatment effective and said that it contributed significantly towards the improvement in their quality of life. The medical community too found it feasible to provide MMT within the Indian context.

The details of the study were presented at an event organized in December 2014. The event was attended by senior policy makers, academicians, activists and members from the drug using community as well as by international development partners.

At the event, key stakeholders agreed that the intervention is much needed in the country, especially at a time when drug use has become a growing concern. It was also noted that drug use programmes need to be tailored to the needs of people who use drugs and that MMT as a treatment option should be made available and accessible all over the country.

Proving successful in the Indian context, the MMT programme will be incorporated into the drug treatment clinics of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and will be further scaled up nationally. The five pilot sites will be designated learning centres for training of staff.

At the event, the Representative from the Department of Revenue announced that methadone will be proposed to be considered an essential drug in the upcoming review of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. Further to this, it will also be proposed that private medical practitioners be allowed to prescribe methadone as a treatment option for people who need it.  

Click here to view awareness posters on MMT

Click here to view the study

The project was possible thanks to the financial support from the Governments of Australia, Germany, United Kingdom and UNAIDS.