Can Naloxone Be Used as an Opiate Addiction Treatment?

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Within the addiction field, opiate addiction treatments far outnumber those available for other types of drugs. With the advent of methadone, new advances in opiate addiction treatment continue to be developed with each passing year. Naloxone, one of a handful of antagonist-type treatments, produces certain key effects that make for a multi-purpose treatment drug.

Medication-Assisted Therapies

Naloxone, methadone, and buprenorphine are just a few of the opiate addiction treatment medications on the market. Also known as medication-assisted therapies, these drugs should be used alongside psychosocial treatment approaches, such as behavioral therapies and support group work, according to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration.

While the overall goal of helping addicts maintain abstinence remains the same, different drug types go about this purpose in different ways. Methadone and buprenorphine act as replacement therapies, mimicking the effects of addictive opiates while at the same time supporting damaged brain chemical pathways. Unlike methadone and buprenorphine, naloxone produces antagonist effects by blocking addictive opiate materials from interacting with key chemical processes in the brain. Using one drug as opposed to the other depends on a person’s individual treatment needs.

Naloxone’s Purpose

Opiate Overdose Treatment

Naloxone Be Used

Naloxone blocks the effects of opiates, making it an ideal overdose treatment.

The brain quickly develops a tolerance for opiates, which drives users to keep increasing dosage amounts during the course of opiate abuse. Consequently, the risk of opiate overdose runs high, especially for long-term users. Naloxone’s ability to block opiate effects make for a highly effective overdose treatment.

In general, opiates force chemical producing brain cells to secrete large amounts of neurotransmitter chemicals. Since opiates naturally produce a slowing effect on central nervous system functions, too large a drug dose can shut down the body’s major systems altogether. Naloxone not only prevents opiates from interacting with cell sites, but also forces affected sites to expel opiate materials. These interactions account for the drug’s use as an overdose treatment.

Opiate Addiction Treatment

Naloxone’s use as an opiate addiction treatment is fairly limited when used by itself. While effective as a deterrent-type agent, those who would most benefit from naloxone’s effects require additional supports to combat the damage done to the brain’s chemical system.

Naloxone’s most effective use as an opiate addiction treatment comes in the form of Suboxone, a drug that combines buprenorphine’s “opiate-like” effects with naloxone’s ability to deter compulsive drug use. In effect, naloxone’s opiate-blocking effects only come into play when a person tries to abuse Suboxone through injection or snorting, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. These combined effects not only reduce the likelihood of relapse, but also help to retrain the brain reward system by replacing the opiate “high” with an unpleasant withdrawal experience whenever a person attempts to abuse the drug.

How Does Suboxone Treat Opiate Addiction?


Ultimately, naloxone’s use as an opiate addiction treatment should only be considered as a treatment for opiate overdose or in combination with buprenorphine as a long-term treatment approach. Since medication therapies like naloxone only offer physical support to damaged brain functions, it’s equally important to receive ongoing psychosocial treatment (behavioral therapies, support group work) to address addiction’s psychological aftereffects on a person’s thinking and behaviors.

If you or someone you know are considering naloxone as an opiate addiction treatment option and have more questions, please feel free to call our toll-free helpline at 800-442-6158 Who Answers? to speak with one of our addictions specialists.

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