Optimizing opioid use disorder treatment with naltrexone or buprenorphine

Kara E. Rudolph, Iván Díaz, Sean X. Luo, John Rotrosen, Edward V. Nunes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Relapse rates during opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment remain unacceptably high. It is possible that optimally matching patients with medication type would reduce risk of relapse. Our objective was to learn a rule by which to assign type of medication for OUD to reduce risk of relapse, and to estimate the extent to which risk of relapse would be reduced if such a rule were used. Methods: This was a secondary analysis of an open-label randomized controlled, 24-week comparative effectiveness trial of injection extended-release naltrexone (XR-NTX), delivered approximately every 28 days, or daily sublingual buprenorphine-naloxone (BUP-NX) for treating OUD, 2014–2017 (N = 570). Outcome was a binary indicator of relapse to regular opioid use during the 24 weeks of outpatient treatment. Results: We found that applying an estimated individualized treatment rule—i.e., a rule that assigns patients with OUD to either XR-NTX or BUP-NX based on their individual characteristics in such a way that risk of relapse is minimized—would reduce risk of relapse by 24 weeks by 12% compared to randomly assigned treatment. Conclusions: The number-needed-to-treat with the estimated treatment rule to prevent a single relapse is 14. A simpler, alternative estimated rule in which homeless participants would be treated with XR-NTX and stably housed participants would be treated with BUP-NX performed similarly. These results provide an estimate of the amount by which a relatively simple change in clinical practice could be expected to improve prevention of OUD relapse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number109031
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
StatePublished - Nov 1 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Buprenorphine
  • Individualized optimal treatment regimes
  • Naltrexone
  • Opioid use disorder

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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