Opiate addiction in China: current situation and treatments

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Historically, China has had extraordinarily high rates of opiate dependence. These rates declined drastically following the 1949 revolution; however, opiate abuse has re-emerged in the late 1980's and has spread quickly since then.


To describe the current situation of opiate addiction and treatments in China and make some suggestions.


A descriptive study based on literature searched from Medline and the China National Knowledge Infrastructure database (1996 to 2004) and hand-picked references.


The number of registered addicts in 2004 was 1.14 million (more than 75% of them heroin addicts), but the actual number is probably far higher. Opiate abuse contributes substantially to the spread of HIV/AIDS in China, with intravenous drug use the most prevalent route of transmission (51.2%). Currently, the main treatments for opiate dependence in China include short-term detoxification with opiate agonists or non-opiate agents, such as clonidine or lofexidine; Chinese herbal medicine and traditional non-medication treatments are also used. Methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) has not been officially approved by the Chinese government for widespread implementation, but some pilot studies are currently underway.


China faces substantial drug abuse problems that appear to be worsening with time. Opiate dependence is a major threat to the public health and social security of China because of its devastating medical effects, its impact on risk for HIV/AIDS and criminal behaviors, low rates of recovery and high rates of relapse. There is an urgent need to implement MMT and other modern treatments for opiate dependence more widely in China.

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