Most people who are addicted to opiates cannot simply walk away from that addiction. The psychological and physical dependence is so strong that it requires a transitional drug to slowly facilitate sober living.
In fact, less than 25% of people who quit the use of opiates (painkillers and/or heroin) can remain sober for a full year. For this reason, physicians and substance abuse treatment centers have used medication assisted treatment options such as methadone, naltrexone, and suboxone to treat opiate addiction. These federally approved treatment drugs help reduce the side effects of withdrawal and curb cravings which can lead to relapse. These medications are not just for “detox,” but for long-term use in order to sustain sober living.
Methadone has been the standard form of sober living treatment for opioid addiction for over 30 years. It is legally only available from federally-regulated clinics for regular use in order to slowly wean an individual off the opiate addiction. When taken properly, medication-assisted treatment with methadone suppresses opioid withdrawal, blocks the effects of other problem opioids and reduces cravings.
Naltrexone is an opioid blocker that is also used as a way to medically treat opiate addiction. There are some advantages and disadvantages to using Naltrexone. It does not have any addictive properties and there’s no addiction to Naltrexone that develops. However, it has several disadvantages. It does not stop cravings making it difficult to continue to use Naltrexone as a regular treatment method. The use of this treatment drug cannot begin until an individual has stopped using painkillers/heroin for at least two weeks, which is difficult for most addicts to do. Lastly, if an individual relapses while using Naltrexone, there is a high risk of overdose and death.
Suboxone, the synthetic opiate buprenorphine is used to treat heroin addicts during their drug detox and even for some time after detox to facilitate sober living. The drug was approved in 2002 and has many advantages over methadone and Naltrexone. For instance, it suppresses withdrawal symptoms, curbs cravings, and blocks the effects of other opioids in an individual’s system for 24 hours. Sober living rates are much higher (up to 40-60%) with the use of Suboxone than with methadone or Naltrexone. Furthermore, treatment does not require daily participation in a highly regulated program, as with methadone treatment. Lastly, the potential for abusing Suboxone is substantially lower than the other two treatment medications discussed here.
Naloxone – An Emergency Drug
Naloxone is a treatment drug to be used in emergencies and not a long-term treatment drug. It is potentially lifesaving treatment to use on someone who is in the middle of a heroin overdose. When used on someone experiencing an overdose, this medicine temporarily blocks the opiate effects, allowing a person to breathe again long enough for help to arrive. In fact, the drug has been used for decades among paramedics as well as within the drug community, and it has saved thousands of lives.
More and more physicians and treatment centers are leaning towards the use of Suboxone for its many advantages. It is a long-lasting drug that needs to be taken once per day. It comes in 2 mg or 8 mg doses. Those who take it should not eat, drink or smoke for 30 minutes before and after taking their daily dose. Food, beverages, and nicotine can block the absorption of Suboxone and get in the way of treatment.
Research has shown that the best combination of treatment include medication, such as those discussed above, to manage the withdrawal symptoms, as well as therapy to address the behavioral and psychological issues that contributed to the addiction in the first place. Long lasting sober living includes creating a new lifestyle in which different daily choices are made, creating a strong support system, and examining the thoughts and behaviors that might be contributing to the cycle of addiction.
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