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In Frontiers in neurology

Background : Patients with MMT often face difficulties such as sleep disturbance, headaches, and difficulty in complete abstinence from drugs. Research has shown that acupuncture can mitigate side effects while attenuating methadone dependence. It also has a synergistic and attenuated effect on methadone maintenance treatment (MMT). Exploring the predictors of the efficacy of acupuncture intervention in MMT might help clinicians and patients promote acupuncture-assisted participation in MMT, and improve clinical treatment strategies for MMT.

Objective : To describe the effect of potential predictors on MMT after acupuncture intervention by building a decision-tree model of data from A Clinical Study of Acupuncture-assisted MMT.

Design setting and participants : In this randomized controlled trial, 135 patients with MMT underwent acupuncture at the Substance Dependence Department of Guangzhou Huiai Hospital in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China.

Intervention : A total of 135 patients were 1:1 randomly assigned to either an acupuncture plus routine care group (acupuncture plus methadone) or a routine group (methadone only) for 6 weeks, and followed up for 10 weeks. Sex, age, education level, route of previous opioid use, years of opioid use, and MMT time were recorded before the trial.

Outcome measurements and statistical analysis : All analyses were based on the intention-to-treat (ITT) population. The two decision tree models used the change of methadone dosage and the VAS score for opioid desire as response variables, respectively, and the evaluation criteria were positive effect (decreased by ≥20%) and no effect (decreased by <20%, or increased). We generated the respective feature weights for the decision tree and evaluated the model's accuracy and performance by Precision-Recall.

Results : The overall accuracy of methadone reduction and psychological craving VAS scoring decision trees were 0.63 and 0.74, respectively. The Methadone Dosage Efficacy decision tree identified years of opioid use (weight = 0.348), acupuncture (weight = 0.346), and route of previous opioid use (weight = 0.162) as key features. For the VAS Score decision tree, acupuncture (weight = 0.618), MMT time (weight = 0.235), and age (weight = 0.043) were the important features.

Conclusion : Exploratory decision tree analysis showed that acupuncture, years of opioid use, route of previous opioid use, MMT time, and age were key predictors of the MMT treatment. Thus, acupuncture-assisted MMT strategy should consider the relevant influencing factors mentioned above.

Patient summary : Understanding patient characteristics and the impact of acupuncture regimens on methadone dosage reduction in MMT patients may help physicians determine the best treatment regimen for patients. An analysis of data from our clinical trial showed that acupuncture, years of opioid use, route of previous opioid use, age, and MMT time were key predictors of progressive recovery in patients with MMT. Eligible patients may benefit most from the MMT rehabilitation that reduces consumption and psychological cravings for methadone.

Clinical trial registration :, identifier: ChiCTR1900026357.

Dong Yu, Fan Baochao, Yan Enliang, Chen Rouhao, Wei Xiaojing, Zhan Jie, Zeng Jingchun, Wen Hao, Lu Liming


acupuncture, decision tree, feature importance, machine learning, methadone maintenance treatment