Elevated Hair Cortisol Levels among Heroin Addicts on Current Methadone Maintenance Compared to Controls.

Research paper by Jin J Yang, Jifeng J Li, Guanyi G Xu, Jing J Zhang, Zheng Z Chen, Zuhong Z Lu, Huihua H Deng

Indexed on: 25 Mar '16Published on: 25 Mar '16Published in: PloS one


Whether methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) can improve the basal function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is suppressed by long-term heroin consumption, is a matter of debate. The stress state and depression and anxiety symptoms may affect the basal activity of the HPA axis in MMT patients. However, the effect of psychological factors on HPA activity was not simultaneously controlled in previous studies. This study investigated differences in HPA basal activity between MMT patients and controls using psychological variables as covariates. The participants included 52 MMT patients and 41 age-matched, non-heroin-dependent controls. Psychological states were self-reported with the Perceived Stress Scale, Self-Rating Depression Scale and Self-Rating Anxiety Scale. The hair cortisol level was adopted as a biomarker of HPA basal activity and was determined with liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry. The results revealed that MMT patients had significantly higher hair cortisol levels than the controls (p<0.05), but the difference was not significant (p>0.05) when the perceived stress, depression and anxiety scores were used as covariates. We concluded that patients with long-term MMT showed higher basal activity of the HPA axis. The high chronic stress state and increase in depression and anxiety symptoms may mask the suppression effect of methadone on the HPA activity.