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Detoxification and Withdrawal Management

PI: Brian Rush & Jurgen Rehm (Institute of Mental Health Policy Research/CAMH, ON)

Leadership Group: Nikki Bozinoff & Farihah Ali (CAMH, ON); Annie Talbot (University of Montreal, QC); Tara Elton-Marshall (University of Ottawa); Valerie Giang (University of Alberta, AB)


Given the extensive population sizes with opioid use disorders and related harms forming a core part of the ‘opioid crisis’, the comprehensive and effective delivery of evidence based treatment interventions constitutes a key element of the required interventions strategy. Treatment interventions for opioid use disorder consist mainly of long-term, e.g., opioid pharmacotherapy, treatment as ‘first-line response’ options. There are however, other therapeutic interventions which for various reasons (e.g., limited OAT infrastructure, resources or expertise) are offered or practiced in Canada, including so-called ‘detoxification/withdrawal management’ approaches. Some of these, as currently practiced, foot on a highly limited evidence-basis but also rather diversified practices across Canada, and include considerable risk for harms (e.g., overdose due to lowered tolerance) to the patient, while for others (e.g., opioid tapering, naltrexone provision) evidence is only slowly emerging. Overall, highly limited evidence-based guidance on these approaches currently prevails, which this project aims to address and improve.

Project Components:


Detoxification and/or withdrawal management approaches to opioid use disorders are provided and practiced in a sizeable number of institutions or facilities across Canada; many of these practices occur on the basis of non-existent and/or questionable evidence-base and with considerable risk to acute harm (e.g., accidental overdose death) to patients. At the same time, there appear to be needs for evidence-based guidance or support for opioid detoxification/withdrawal management approaches, as driven either by patient and or system/infrastructure needs or demands (e.g., where patients prefer to be off opioids or environments where capacity or skills for OAT do not exist). As part of our objectives, we:

  • Completed an comprehensive environmental scan of current institutional practices and information/evidence-needs related to detoxification and withdrawal management services for OUD in Canada.

  • Identified the perceived system/environmental factors that are influencing current practice.

  • Disseminated and distributed documents to key stakeholders and policymakers to inform research and policy/practice.

 Read the Full Report (English) 

Publication in the Canadian Journal of Addiction

Environmental-Scan-Part-1-05192023 (1).pdfEnvironmental-Scan-Part-2-05192023 (1).pdf



Opioid-related detoxification and withdrawal management approaches have their place in the continuum or spectrum of therapeutic interventions. There are several different approaches to opioid-related detoxification/withdrawal management. While these include or are supported by limited while mixed or controversial evidence-bases at best, actual delivery and practice often occurs in a non-evidence based fashion (e.g., drug-free opioid detoxification). For other elements, e.g. opioid tapering and or naltrexone provision (e.g., as detoxification aftercare), the evidence-base is limited but evolving, also since relevant therapeutic practices and/or medications are relatively new. We have created an evidence-based guidance document on opioid disorder related detoxification and withdrawal management.

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