Preliminary evidence of different and clinically meaningful opioid withdrawal phenotypes

Kelly E. Dunn, Elise M. Weerts, Andrew S. Huhn, Jennifer R. Schroeder, David Andrew Tompkins, George E. Bigelow, Eric C. Strain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Opioid use disorder (OUD) is a public health crisis. Differences in opioid withdrawal severity that predict treatment outcome could facilitate the process of matching patients to treatments. This is a secondary analysis of a randomized controlled trial (RCT) that enrolled treatment seeking heroin-users (N = 89, males = 78) into a residential study. Participants maintained on morphine (30 mg, subcutaneous, four-times daily) underwent a naloxone (0.4 mg, IM = intramuscular) challenge session to precipitate withdrawal. Area-under-the-curve (AUC) values from self-reported withdrawal ratings during the challenge session were analyzed using K-means clustering, revealing two phenotype groups. Withdrawal and retention from the subsequent 14-day double-blind, double-dummy RCT comparing three study medications (clonidine, tramadol-ER, and buprenorphine) were evaluated as a function of phenotype. Cluster analyses suggested HIGH (N = 37; mean [SD] subjective opiate withdrawal scale [SOWS]–AUC 123.7 [65.8]) and LOW (N = 52; SOWS-AUC 68.0 [47.7]) withdrawal phenotype groups. HIGH participants were significantly more female and had lower body mass indices than LOW participants; no drug-use variables were significant. Regarding RCT outcomes, HIGH phenotype participants were less likely to be retained in the study (P = 0.02) and had higher mean self-reported withdrawal (P = 0.05) than LOW phenotype participants. A significant interaction in RCT retention was observed between phenotype (P = 0.02) and study medication (P < 0.01). Self-reported withdrawal was significant for phenotype (P = 0.02); study medication trended towards significance (P = 0.07). Results suggest patients have meaningfully different experiences of opioid withdrawal that may predict differential response to opioid pharmacotherapies during supervised withdrawal. Additional prospective research to replicate and more thoroughly evaluate withdrawal phenotype correlates and sex differences is warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12680
JournalAddiction Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


  • buprenorphine
  • opioid
  • personalized medicine
  • withdrawal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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