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Open Access Research

Factors associated with pretreatment and treatment dropouts: comparisons between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal clients admitted to medical withdrawal management

Xin Li1, Huiying Sun2, David C Marsh3 and Aslam H Anis24*

Author Affiliations

1 Antai College of Economics & Management, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, 535 Fhuazhen Rd, Shanghai, China

2 Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences, 588-1081 Burrard Street, Vancouver, B.C. V6Z 1Y6, Canada

3 Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Vancouver, B.C. V6Z 1Y6, Canada

4 School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C. V6Z 1Y6, Canada

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Harm Reduction Journal 2013, 10:38  doi:10.1186/1477-7517-10-38

Published: 10 December 2013



Addiction treatment faces high pretreatment and treatment dropout rates, especially among Aboriginals. In this study we examined characteristic differences between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal clients accessing an inpatient medical withdrawal management program, and identified risk factors associated with the probabilities of pretreatment and treatment dropouts, respectively.


2231 unique clients (Aboriginal = 451; 20%) referred to Vancouver Detox over a two-year period were assessed. For both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal groups, multivariate logistic regression analyses were conducted with pretreatment dropout and treatment dropout as dependent variables, respectively.


Aboriginal clients had higher pretreatment and treatment dropout rates compared to non-Aboriginal clients (41.0% vs. 32.7% and 25.9% vs. 20.0%, respectively). For Aboriginal people, no fixed address (NFA) was the only predictor of pretreatment dropout. For treatment dropout, significant predictors were: being female, having HCV infection, and being discharged on welfare check issue days or weekends. For non-Aboriginal clients, being male, NFA, alcohol as a preferred substance, and being on methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) at referral were associated with pretreatment dropout. Significant risk factors for treatment dropout were: being younger, having a preferred substance other than alcohol, having opiates as a preferred substance, and being discharged on weekends.


Our results highlight the importance of social factors for the Aboriginal population compared to substance-specific factors for the non-Aboriginal population. These findings should help clinicians and decision-makers to recognize the importance of social supports especially housing and initiate appropriate services to improve treatment intake and subsequent retention, physical and mental health outcomes and the cost-effectiveness of treatment.

Aboriginal; Housing; Pretreatment dropout rate; Treatment dropout rate; Withdrawal management; Substance use disorders; Detoxification