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Duration of use and outcomes among people with opioid use disorder initiating methadone and buprenorphine in Ontario: a population-based propensity-score matched cohort study

Gomes T, McCormack D, Bozinoff N, Tadrous M, Antoniou T, Munro C, Campbell T, Paterson JM, Mamdani M, Sproule B. Addiction. 2022; Mar 8 [Epub ahead of print]. DOI:

Aims — To characterize comparative risks and benefits of methadone versus buprenorphine/naloxone in a contemporary cohort where the unregulated drug supply is dominated by fentanyl.

Design — Population-based propensity-score matched cohort study

Setting — Ontario, Canada

Participants — People aged 18+ initiating opioid agonist therapy (OAT) for an opioid use disorder between October 2016 and December 2018 (N=18,880).

Intervention — Initiation of methadone versus buprenorphine/naloxone.

Measurements — The primary outcome was opioid overdose (fatal and non-fatal) while on treatment, with secondary outcomes including opioid overdose (first 30 days of treatment), treatment discontinuation, healthcare interactions related to treatment of opioid use disorder, receiving a weekly supply of take-home doses, and opioid overdose within 30 days of treatment discontinuation. Outcomes were assessed over 1-year.

Findings — Overall, 7,517 people initiating buprenorphine were matched to an equal number of methadone-treated individuals. Risk of opioid overdose while on treatment (hazard ratio [HR] 0.50; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.37-0.68) or within the first 30 days of treatment (HR 0.51, 95% CI 0.31-0.85) was lower among buprenorphine recipients compared to methadone recipients. In secondary analyses, people initiating buprenorphine had a higher risk of treatment discontinuation within the first year (median time to discontinuation 104 vs 265 days, HR 1.43, 95% CI 1.37-1.49), had lower rates of healthcare interactions for OUD (186.5 vs 254.4 per person-year; Rate Ratio 0.73; 95% CI 0.72-0.75), and a higher rate of receiving weekly take-home doses (HR 2.33; 95% CI 2.20-2.46). Overdose rates in the period following OAT discontinuation were higher than those observed while on treatment, but did not differ significantly by OAT type.

Conclusions — Although treatment retention is higher among methadone recipients, overdose risk is also elevated compared to buprenorphine recipients. These findings demonstrate the benefits of any OAT on avoidance of overdose, particularly following treatment discontinuation and with the increasingly unpredictable drug supply in North America.