Opioid medications are usually prescribed for acute pain episodes after a traumatic injury, like fracture or surgery. Also, opioids are an essential treatment option for cancer-related pain, improving cancer patients’ quality of life.
Because opioids are highly addictive, only specialized licensed doctors can prescribe opioids, and they only recommend this drug to be taken for a short time — often, just a few days. In this article, you’ll learn more about opioid addiction and everything you need to know about its proper treatment.
What Are Opioids?
Opioids refer to a drug classification that includes the illicit drug heroin. Also, it includes prescription pain relievers such as codeine, morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl. These drugs interact with the nervous system, especially the brain’s nerve cells, relieving pain and producing pleasurable effects. Hence, one can easily be addicted to opioid medication.
What Is Opioid Addiction?
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, 23% of people who use heroin eventually develop opioid addiction. In 2015, about 20.5 million people, ages 12 or older, in the United States had a substance abuse disorder and 2 million of which involves prescription pain relievers and 591,000 involving heroin.
Opioid addiction caused 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin and 20,101 overdose fatalities related to prescription pain relievers in 2015. This condition is a primary, relapsing, and chronic brain disease in which a person pathologically pursues reward or relief by opioid use and other behaviors.
Because of the current health crisis, many people are getting sick physically and mentally due to social isolation. This blogpost explains the impact of COVID-19 on opioid addiction, in which frontline health professionals had reported higher opioid use in their patients ever since the pandemic crisis started.
Now that you know the meaning of opioid and opioid addiction, it’s time to learn the treatment options available.
Effective Medications to Treat Opioid Use Disorders
The effective medications to treat opioid addiction include methadone, buprenorphine (such as Suboxone and Subutex), and extended-release naltrexone (Vivitrol). Methadone and buprenorphine don’t substitute opioid addiction for another type. These medications’ dosage doesn’t get a person high; instead, it reduces opioid withdrawals and cravings. Also, they restore brain circuit balance, enabling the brain to heal, working toward recovery.
Check the details of the following common opioid addiction medications:
- Methadone: This medication comes in pill, liquid, or wafer form. Dolophine, a brand name of methadone, is an opioid analgesic in which the patient develops a tolerance for it to help prevent opioid withdrawal. Also, methadone treatment is used for cocaine abuse, offered by methadone rehab clinics.
- Buprenorphine: This drug belongs to mixed opioid agonist-antagonists to prevent moderate withdrawal symptoms and treat opioid dependency. Buprenorphine provides a fast and sustained improvement for stress and anxiety symptoms among opioid-dependent patients.
- Extended-release Naltrexone: This drug refers to a sustained-release injectable formulation, effective for preventing opioid addiction relapse. Extended-release injectable naltrexone is injected in the muscles once a month or via intramuscular (IM) gluteal injection, addressing a patient’s noncompliance to oral naltrexone.
Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
Medications in treating opioid addiction are often combined with behavioral counseling. In this way, the holistic or whole-patient approach, called Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), becomes more effective.
Behavioral therapy can help engage opioid-addicted individuals in drug abuse treatment, providing them with incentives to abstain. Patients are encouraged to modify their behaviors and attitudes related to opioid abuse, hence increasing life skills like coping mechanisms in handling stress and environmental cues that trigger intense opioid cravings.
Here are some of the standard behavioral therapies effective in addressing opioid abuse:
Contingency Management Interventions
They are also called motivational incentives, involving giving tangible rewards to promote abstinence and other positive behaviors. One type of reward system is voucher-based reinforcement, in which a voucher is given to a patient for every drug-free urine sample. Vouchers can be used to exchange goods or services. Contingency management behavioral therapy is usually accompanied by methadone treatment.
Community Reinforcement Approach Plus Vouchers
This behavioral therapy refers to an intensive 24-week outpatient therapy to treat substance abuse, including opioid addiction. The community reinforcement approach or CRA uses recreational, social, vocational, and familial reinforcers. The patient is given material incentives, making a drug-free lifestyle more rewarding than substance use. The purposes of CRA include maintaining long-term abstinence and learning new life skills to sustain it.
A patient attends one or two individual counseling sessions weekly, focusing on minimizing drug abuse, improving family relations, receiving vocational counseling, and building new social networks and recreational activities.
New Opioid Addiction Treatments
Scientists and researchers, supported by the government and non-profit organizations, continuously find new treatments for opioid addiction. Here are the following new treatments researchers are studying that can effectively treat opioid addiction:
In a study, two synthetic opioid vaccines triggered high-affinity antibodies against synthetic opioids such as carfentanil and fentanyl in mice. Opioid withdrawal syndrome refers to a life-threatening condition caused by opioid dependence that can lead to respiratory depression and death. The vaccines offer protection against respiratory depression, which is the primary cause of opioid overdose deaths.
Also, it shows that these vaccines successfully diminished brain drug biodistribution, shielding the nervous system from opioid analgesic effects.
Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation
This non-invasive, painless brain-stimulation technique is used for treating opioid addiction. Direct, low-intensity electrical currents are used to stimulate the brain, in which current is passed via two electrodes placed over the head, modulating neuronal activity. This treatment is still being studied due to its limited clinical information.
Improving Opioid Treatment Delivery
Improving the health care system will help reach more patients in need of treatment. Healthcare providers should undergo continuous training to understand better which opioid addiction treatments will be most effective for individual patients.
The effective treatment for opioid addiction includes effective medications, such as methadone treatment, to combat the addictive and withdrawal effects of opioids. Behavioral therapies and medications are effective in treating opioid dependency. New treatments are also available such as vaccines and brain current stimulation. Also, improving the healthcare delivery of opioid addiction therapy is crucial in successfully preventing and treating opioid addiction.