Medication Use for Opioid Addiction Treatment

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Medications are possible components of addiction treatment and detox regimens, especially for alcohol, opioids, and nicotine.  They reduce cravings and help to stabilize the person as they learn to cope with the stressors of changes in abstinence and recovery.  According to the National Research Council (US) and Institute of Medicine (US),” The public and the medical profession accept the fact that medicines are needed to treat withdrawal, but fewer believe they are needed over the long term. This belief seems to result from the view that addiction is a moral rather than a medical problem.”

For some, long term maintenance using methadone or buprenorphine for opioid addictions may be the lifesaving treatment that extends their detox durations (up to six months) and allows for maintenance therapies as long as necessary for those who remain at risk of relapse to short-acting opioids.  By expanding the access and availability of supportive services for these programs, addicts can pursue healthy, productive, and satisfying goals while gaining the benefits of abstinence and accountability that raises their sense of confidence, hope, self-efficacy, and self- respect.

Potentials and Risks

Opioid Addiction Treatment

Medication maintenance helps many recovering addicts live happy, productive lives.

Of all the drugs for addicts to relapse to, the chances of dying from an opioid overdose after decreasing tolerance by trying to quit has one of the greatest fatality risks.  According to the CDC, “More people died from drug overdoses in 2014 than in any year on record.  The majority of drug overdose deaths (more than six out of ten) involve an opioid.”  The elderly, the young, and the least predictable individuals are becoming addicted to prescriptions drugs including painkillers and benzodiazepines like Xanax with many being prescribed at the same time elevating the risks that these users face.

Next to alcohol and crack cocaine, more babies are being born addicted than ever before and most of them to opioids.  Pregnant women and mothers addicted to opioids are some of the greatest benefactors of medication use for addiction treatment.  Just when the HIV reductions appeared to begin decreasing, the 1990’s brought about the epidemic rise in opioid painkillers such a Oxycontin and an increase in injection users not limited to the major cities, but, in nearly every small town of America.  IV injection is linked to various communicable diseases, infections, and untimely deaths.

Epidemics Rising

Heroin and meth distributions from Columbia and Mexico increased as efforts to circumvent DEA interventions in cocaine distributions and maintain the profitability chains beyond the explosive crack epidemic of the 1980’s, took on a whole new level of potential buyers.  These drugs were every bit more powerful than their relative cohorts of the past and a large majority of their abusers have no qualms about using them intravenously.

In the 1970’s, heroin confiscations were averaging about 5-10% purity, increasing to around 30-40% in the 1990’s with “black tar heroin” (although less pure than other heroin forms) being some of the most potent heroin available.  Today, the current national average of confiscations is around 35%, mostly because of profitability of “stepping on” the drugs as they pass through the supply chains, but, purities of up 98% have been found.  Recent trends show that illicit fentanyl is replacing even these distribution activities with a drug that is so potent it can kill even the most highly tolerant and experienced heroin user.  According to the NIDA, ’The high potency of fentanyl greatly increases risk of overdose, especially if a person who uses drugs is unaware that a powder or pill contains fentanyl.”

Medical Maintenance Therapies

Maintenance therapies for opioid addictions should not be dismissed so easily.  According to the Institute of Medicine (US), “evidence is accumulating that the reinforcing effects of cocaine and opiates can be reduced by medications that alter their ability to activate the brain’s reward system.”  Sustaining abstinence from short-acting opioids by using a steady and long lasting drug that improves health and social functioning while minimizing cravings, euphoria, and other inhibiting effects of those drugs has the best track record of successful recovery for opioid addicts.

Overcoming Myths of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for Opioid Addictions

The American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence (AATOD), states that, “as knowledge about heroin addiction and effective treatment practices has grown, so too have the objectives of most methadone treatment programs, which also aim to:

  • Decrease criminality and reduce the numbers of substance abusers entering the criminal justice system.
  • Assist patients in addressing multiple substance abuse (including crack/cocaine addiction and alcoholism).
  • Assure treatment for general health matters, especially those related to drug use, such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and hepatitis.
  • Promote patient employability and educational development.
  • Identify and treat mental health problems and alleviate homelessness, family substance abuse, and child and family dysfunction.

To find out more about the use of medication for treating opioid addiction, or for help finding a treatment program, call us at 800-584-3274.


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