Facing the Growing Heroin Problem in Colombia: The New Methadone-assisted Treatment Programs

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Psychiatry, Division of Addiction Psychiatry

Publication Date


Document Type



Health Services Administration | Health Services Research | Psychiatry | Psychiatry and Psychology | Substance Abuse and Addiction | Therapeutics | Virus Diseases


OBJECTIVE: Colombia is facing a rising epidemic of intravenous heroin use. Knowledge of the methadone-assisted treatment programs in the country is crucial in order to propose improvement strategies.

METHODS: 13 programmes from priority regions were surveyed. The demographic and clinical characteristics of the patients attending the programs, a description of the services offered, their methadone treatment protocols, the various barriers to treatment and the causes of treatment abandonment were reviewed.

RESULTS: 12/13 questionnaires were analysed with a total of 538 active patients. Most of the patients attending these programs were men (85.5%) between 18 and 34 years-old (70%). Forty percent (40%) were intravenous drug users and 25% admitted sharing needles. The comorbidities associated with heroin use were mental illness (48%), hepatitis C (8.7%) and HIV (2%). Psychiatric comorbidity was more likely in patients attending the private sector (69.8% vs 29.7%; p < 0.03). The initial average dose of methadone administered was 25.3+/-8.9mg/day, with a maintenance dose ranging from 41 to 80mg/day. Lack of alignment with primary care was perceived to be the most serious barrier to access, ahead of problems with insurance and prejudice towards treatment with methadone (p < 0.05). Health Administration and insurance problems (p < 0.003), together with the lack of availability of methadone (p < 0.018) and relapse (p < 0.014) were the most important reasons for abandonment of treatment.

CONCLUSIONS: The treatment protocols of these programmes offer different levels of development and implementation. Some of the barriers to access and reasons for abandonment of treatment with methadone can be mitigated with better health administration.


Primary care, Colombia, HIV, Hepatitis C, Heroin, Methadone-assisted treatment

DOI of Published Version



Rev Colomb Psiquiatr. 2019 Apr - Jun;48(2):96-104. doi: 10.1016/j.rcp.2017.07.004. Epub 2017 Sep 1. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Revista colombiana de psiquiatria


The link to the full text of this article is from the English edition of Revista Colombiana de Psiquiatria, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rcpeng.2019.03.001.

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID