The United States is in the midst of an opiate addiction epidemic. A recent study predicts that as many as 600,000 Americans could lose their lives to opiate addictions over the next ten years. Making it the deadliest drug problem in the history of the United States.
Yet until the past several years, the preferred treatment for addiction recovery was weaning the patient off the drug. And many drug treatment centers advocated for a variation of the familiar the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. They argued that a controlled abstinence-only model was the best method and there was a great reluctance to even try the newer medication-assisted treatment. But in the past several years, the conventional wisdom in the medical profession has moved away from abstinence-only, with many addiction professionals fully embracing new methods.
Why The Change In Treatment?
The short answer is because medical study after medical study has found that medication-assisted treatment can lower the rate of death among patients undergoing addiction therapy by 50 percent or more. So despite a great deal of reluctance, addiction professionals are acknowledging that opiate replacement drugs are the best and safest option for many patients.
The studies have shown that medication-assisted treatment works because of the way that opiates work on the brain. Once a patient’s body becomes dependent on opioids, cutting back or abstaining from drug use can cause painful and sometimes dangerous withdrawal symptoms ranging from severe nausea to crippling pain in the body. The withdrawal experience is so crippling for many patients that they continue using drugs to keep from suffering the withdrawals.
Why Is Medication-Assisted Treatment More Effective?
When medications such as methadone and buprenorphine (or Suboxone) are given in a controlled medical environment, these replacement drugs satisfy the addictive urges in the body and prevent the onset of withdrawals. The medication, combined with personalized counseling and other treatments, can be remarkably effective. Patients are less likely to relapse if they are free of the worry of suffering through a crippling series of withdrawals.
The amount of replacement medication needed to successfully treat someone depends on the patient. And many patients will likely have to take some level of the medication for the rest of their lives. But with hard work on themselves and the help of the replacement drugs, they can live normal, happy and productive lives.
How Does Opiate Replacement Therapy Work?
It’s important to know that like in any addiction treatment, each patient’s response and challenges are different. That is especially the case with opiate replacement drugs. For one thing, as many as 40 percent of patients may not respond well to the medication. For some reason, the drugs don’t seem to help a percentage of patients and some have side effects that can be problematical.
But that is another reason why it is important to conduct this treatment in an experienced setting. There are a number of different types of opiate replacement drugs available for use as a treatment and a knowledgeable staff of medical professionals can navigate these sometimes tricky issues. A top-of-the-line addiction treatment center can also offer the replacement drugs in tandem with intense personalized therapy. That combination of approaches can be the most effective approach for many patients.
What Kind Of Replacement Drug Options Are Available?
There are a number of opiate replacement drugs in widespread use and each of them has its own pluses and minuses.
Methadone and Buprenorphine are similar drugs in that they provide the feeling patients have when they take an opiate, without many of the dangerous side effects. And since the body is tricked into thinking it is still receiving an addictive opiate, patients don’t have to worry about dangerous side effects. But since patients don’t have to completely detox before starting on one of these replacement drugs, they will have to continue taking methadone and Buprenorphine for the rest of their lives.
The difference between Methadone and Buprenorphine is that Methadone is only given in a clinic, which means frequent trips back for treatment. Buprenorphine is a pill that can be taken at home a couple of times a day. But that opens up the danger the drug could be misused or resold on the black market.
Extended-release Naltrexone (the brand name drug Vivitrol) has several things going for it. It only needs to be injected once a month and it isn’t an opioid. In fact, it can block lower levels of opioids in the body. But to use it, patients have to be completely detoxed and that can be an issue for some patients who are unwilling to suffer the withdrawal symptoms can be detoxing. In the end, which drug works best for any patient sometimes takes a bit of trial and error.
The Risks Of Opiate Replacement Drugs
Like any medication, there are some medical dangers associated with using opiate replacement drugs. Methadone overdoses do happen, but generally when used illegally by addicts for pain. Methadone use for addiction is tightly regulated, making it much less likely to be abused.
The quality that makes Buprenorphine less effective for some patients is also the thing which makes it less likely to be abused. Buprenorphine has a ceiling – the effects of the drug don’t increase after a certain dosage, making it harder to abuse. Which opens up the chance of an overdose for a patient with a lower tolerance level. But that is not a widespread problem.
Naltrexone blocks the effects of opioids up to a certain dose, so generally if a patient has a relapse, they have to stop taking Naltrexone first. But since the drug requires patients to completely detox before it can be used, the chances of an overdose are much increased.
Opiate replacement drug treatments can be a lifesaver when delivered in a controlled setting by caring professionals. Our counselors are available 24 hours a day to answer your questions. Call 888-380-0667