Tapering with pharmaceutical GHB or benzodiazepines for detoxification in GHB-dependent patients: A matched-subject observational study of treatment-as-usual in Belgium and the Netherlands
Number of pages
SourceCNS Drugs, 34, 6, (2020), pp. 651-659
Article / Letter to editor
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SW OZ BSI KLP
SubjectExperimental Psychopathology and Treatment; Radboudumc 13: Stress-related disorders DCMN: Donders Center for Medical Neuroscience
Background: The gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) withdrawal syndrome often has a fulminant course, with a rapid onset and swift progression of severe complications. In clinical practice, two pharmacological regimens are commonly used to counteract withdrawal symptoms during GHB detoxification: tapering with benzodiazepines (BZDs) or tapering with pharmaceutical GHB. In Belgium, standard treatment is tapering with BZDs, while in the Netherlands, pharmaceutical GHB is the preferred treatment method. Though BZDs are cheaper and readily available, case studies suggest GHB tapering results in less severe withdrawal and fewer complications. Objectives: This study aimed to compare two treatments-as-usual in tapering methods on withdrawal, craving and adverse events during detoxification in GHB-dependent patients. Methods: In this multicentre non-randomised indirect comparison of two treatments-as-usual, patients with GHB dependence received BZD tapering (Belgian sample: n = 42) or GHB tapering (Dutch sample: n = 42, matched historical sample). Withdrawal was assessed using the Subjective and Objective Withdrawal Scales, craving was assessed with a Visual Analogue Scale and adverse events were systematically recorded. Differences in withdrawal and craving were analysed using a linear mixed-model analysis, with 'days in admission' and 'detoxification method' as fixed factors. Differences in adverse events were analysed using a Chi-square analysis. Results: Withdrawal decreased over time in both groups. Withdrawal severity was higher in patients receiving BZD tapering (subjective mean = 36.50, standard deviation = 21.08; objective mean = 8.05, standard deviation = 4.68) than in patients receiving pharmaceutical GHB tapering (subjective mean = 15.90; standard deviation = 13.83; objective mean = 3.72; standard deviation = 2.56). No differences in craving were found. Adverse events were more common in the BZD than the GHB group, especially delirium (20 vs 2.5%, respectively). Conclusions: These results support earlier work that BZD tapering might not always sufficiently dampen withdrawal in GHB-dependent patients. However, it needs to be taken into account that both treatments were assessed in separate countries. Based on the current findings, tapering with pharmaceutical GHB could be considered for patients with GHB dependence during detoxification, as it has potentially less severe withdrawal and fewer complications than BZD tapering.
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