Promoting abstinence from cocaine and heroin with a methadone dose increase and a novel contingency

David H. Epstein, John Schmittner, Annie Umbricht, Jennifer R. Schroeder, Eric T. Moolchan, Kenzie L. Preston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


To test whether a combination of contingency management and methadone dose increase would promote abstinence from heroin and cocaine, we conducted a randomized controlled trial using a 2 × 3 (dose × contingency) factorial design in which dose assignment was double-blind. Participants were 252 heroin- and cocaine-abusing outpatients on methadone maintenance. They were randomly assigned to methadone dose (70 or 100 mg/day, double-blind) and voucher condition (noncontingent, contingent on cocaine-negative urines, or "split"). The "split" contingency was a novel contingency that reinforced abstinence from either drug while doubly reinforcing simultaneous abstinence from both: the total value of incentives was "split" between drugs to contain costs. The main outcome measures were percentages of urine specimens negative for heroin, cocaine, and both simultaneously; these were monitored during a 5-week baseline of standard treatment (to determine study eligibility), a 12-week intervention, and a 10-week maintenance phase (to examine intervention effects in return-to-baseline conditions). DSM-IV criteria for ongoing drug dependence were assessed at study exit. Urine-screen results showed that the methadone dose increase reduced heroin use but not cocaine use. The split 100 mg group was the only group to achieve a longer duration of simultaneous negatives than its same-dose noncontingent control group. The frequency of DSM-IV opiate and cocaine dependence diagnoses decreased in the active intervention groups. For a split contingency to promote simultaneous abstinence from cocaine and heroin, a relatively high dose of methadone appears necessary but not sufficient; an increase in overall incentive amount may also be required.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)92-100
Number of pages9
JournalDrug and alcohol dependence
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2009


  • Contingency management
  • DSM diagnoses
  • Methadone dose
  • Polydrug dependence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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