The early phases of psychosis have been hypothesized to constitute a critical period, a window of opportunity. At the same time, the early phases of psychosis are associated with increased risk of unwanted outcome, such as suicidal behaviour and social isolation. This was the background for the emergence of early intervention services, and in Denmark, the OPUS trial was initiated as part of that process.
Modified assertive community treatment, together with family involvement and social skills training, constituted the core elements in the original programme. A total of 547 patients with first-episode psychosis were included in the trial.
To summarize briefly the results of the OPUS trial: the OPUS treatment was superior to standard treatment in reducing psychotic and negative symptoms and substance abuse, in increasing user satisfaction and adherence to treatment, and in reducing use of bed days and days in supported housing. Moreover, relatives included in the OPUS treatment were less strained and had a higher level of knowledge about schizophrenia and higher user satisfaction.
The OPUS treatment was implemented throughout Denmark. Training courses were developed and manuals and books were published. Regional health authorities had access to national grants for implementing early intervention services; as a result, OPUS teams were disseminated throughout the country. The content of the treatment is now further developed, and new elements are being tried out - such as individual placement and support, lifestyle changes, cognitive remediation, specialized treatment for substance abuse and different kinds of user involvement.