Impaired Psychomotor Function and Plasma Methadone and Levo-Alpha-Acetylmethadol (LAAM) Concentrations in Opioid-Substitution Patients

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Tolerance to the psychomotor impairing effects of opioid drugs is expected to develop with repeated dosing, but may be incomplete. The relationship between plasma opioid concentration and psychomotor function in opioid-dependent patients was examined to determine whether impairment was more likely at the time of highest plasma drug concentration. Sixteen patients participating in a cross-over trial comparing methadone and LAAM completed a tracking task (OSPAT) 11 times over the dosing-interval for methadone (24-hrs) and LAAM (48-hrs). Venous blood was collected for the quantification of plasma (R)-(−)-methadone, LAAM, and nor-LAAM concentrations. The Digit Symbol Substitution Test (DSST) and Trail-Making Test were administered at the time of peak plasma concentration. Ten healthy controls (HCs) also participated. OSPAT scores (obtained for 15 patients) fluctuated significantly across the dosing-interval for both drugs and were lower in patients than HCs at the times of peak concentrations of (R)-(−)-methadone (1 hr: (mean difference; 95% CI) (2.13; 0.18–4.08); 2 hrs: (2.38; 0.48–4.28) postdosing) and LAAM (2 hrs: (1.81; 0.09–3.53), and 4 hrs (1.90: 0.9–3.71) postdosing). Within-participant analysis of the peak-change from baseline for OSPAT scores found that 10 of the 15 patients could be categorized as impaired on methadone and 9 on LAAM. No HCs were impaired. Patients performed worse on the DSST and Trails-A than HCs, but not on Trails-B. Results suggest that some patients receiving opioids long term may exhibit impairment at the time of highest plasma drug concentration. These patients should be made aware that their ability to undertake complex tasks may be affected.

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