Opioid plant

Understanding Medically-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Detox

Back in the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies were working with medical communities and telling them that their patients would not become addicted to prescription painkillers, otherwise known today as opiates or opioids. Therefore, since their extremely addictive tendencies were not as prevalent during this time, the rate at which physicians were prescribing opioids to their patients began to skyrocket, subsequently starting a big trend and continuous cycle of narcotic sales and consumption, leading to the misuse of these prescription and non-prescription drugs. 

Fast forward to the present day, the information spread around back then about opioids would be considered slanderous, as extensive evidence and research have proved that these painkillers are addictive. For adults under the age of 50, opioids account for more than half of all drug overdose deaths, the leading cause of death within the United States. To put this into perspective, the misuse of prescription narcotics affects two million Americans around the world, and on average, 130 people die from opioid-related overdoses every single day. 

Causing major health, social, and economic problems, opioid addiction has been this ongoing widespread epidemic, one that has continued to rapidly increase, and not slow down anytime soon. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that due to the misuse of prescription opioids alone, the United States has been in an economic burden, causing a loss of 78.5 billion dollars annually!

Therefore, to combat the severity of this type of addiction, treatment, here at Sana Lake Recovery Center, we believe in opioid detox, but through Medically-Assisted Therapy (MAT). This treatment method aims to help save people’s lives, make opioid detoxification safer and more manageable, and most importantly, lower the rate of death due to overdose, and end this destructive cyclical epidemic. 

What are Prescription Opioids? 

Known as narcotics or pain killers, opiates are medications often prescribed by physicians, specifically to help treat individuals who are suffering from severe chronic pain, such as headaches and migraines, back pain, and arthritis. As mentioned before, in recent years, prescription opioids have been more widely accepted than in the past. This often is a result of recovering from a big surgery or becoming injured from sports, falls, auto accidents, or other incidents. The most common types of opioids include: 

  • Oxycodone (OxyContin) 
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin) 
  • Heroin (Street drug) 
  • Fentanyl
  • Codeine
  • Morphine 

Despite the serious risks and side effects associated with these potent drugs, people take them, because they are so desperate to get rid of the severe pain they are in. As you might have guessed, this is dangerous, because opioids have a high success rate in numbing pain. The more the drug is effective in doing its job, the more dependent our body becomes on them. 

How Do Opioids Work?

Opioid receptors are located and found in our nervous system, where they attach themselves within the nerve cells or neurons within our brain. These receptors trigger a chemical reaction, which leads to the body feeling the sensations of pleasure and pain relief. In other words, these opioid receptors interact with certain nerve cells located within the brain and body. 

When taking opioids of any kind, this changes the chemistry of the brain which leads to drug tolerance, which means the dosage that someone is taking regardless if correct or not, ends up increasing every time, so when absorbed into the bloodstream, the body thinks and mimics the same pain-relieving effect every time, because the body is so used to it. When this dependence and inability to cease use interferes with the quality of a person’s life, it is considered to have developed into Opioid Use Disorder (OUD). 

Opioid pain relievers can be safe when prescribed and monitored carefully by a licensed physician. However, since these drugs specifically produce symptoms of euphoria in addition to relieving pain, it is often assumed that it is okay to take more than the actual recommended dosage. But, even when opioids were taken as directed, and then no longer required medically, they still have a high potential for causing addiction in some people. 

What Causes Tolerance, Dependance, and Addiction to Opioids? 

What we do know from research, is that this condition is a result of a combination of environmental, genetic, and lifestyle factors, some of which are unknown at this time. 

Identifying the reasons or causes as to why people become addicted to opioids is complicated. This epidemic has been ongoing, and as the death toll continues to rise, the cause of why and how it can be stopped is constantly being figured out. 

As mentioned above, much of what is believed to play a role in opioid addiction is the body’s internal system for regulating pain, reward, and addictive behavior. This is called the endogenous opioid system. It consists of receptors. When a person craves an opioid, the genetic makeup in these receptors, provide the brain with instructions on how the body is influenced. This means how our body should react and respond when a person takes their opioid of choice.

It is important to note, that there is a difference between tolerance, dependence, and addiction when it comes to opioids. Tolerance means when a person is using opioids, they start to experience a reduced response to medication. Therefore the person will require more amounts of opioids to experience the same pain-relieving effect.

The meaning of dependence is similar to tolerance. It means that an individual’s body adjusts to its normal functioning when opioids are taken. Unpleasant symptoms similar to withdrawal occur when no opioids are in one’s system. Lastly, addiction is the most powerful of them all. Also known as opioid use disorder (OUD), addiction occurs when a person develops an overpowering urge or craving for these drugs. An addicted mind is also attributed to a loss of control, making it more difficult to refuse the drug. It can also be hard to function without it, even though using can be extremely harmful. 

It is important to note, that dependence is not the same as addiction, but can, and most likely will lead to it if not careful. Dependence, as mentioned, is when the body becomes used to the medication over time. Addiction means abusing a substance or drug. In this instance, when someone in pain takes a pain pill, or even when they are not in pain, one’s body has unfortunately become so dependent on the opiate, they have a compulsive need to take these narcotics to properly function. In other words, opioids make your brain and body believe the drug is necessary for survival. 

Addiction is the final step after someone has first become dependent and tolerant. This makes it very challenging and difficult to stop taking opioids, and withdrawal symptoms, both physical and psychological begin, such as diarrhea, sweats, muscle cramping, anxiety, etc. 

Not only can addiction cause life-threatening health problems, but a person who is addicted is at major risk of overdosing. Taking opioids causes the following symptoms: 

  • Shallow breathing
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Sleepiness
  • Constipation
  • Nausea

Complications due to opioid use and abuse can lead to unconsciousness and overdose, but unfortunately, as the statistics show, the stories of tragedy happen all too often where it is too late to help some people, and they die due to overdosing, complications from use, often both, especially if mixed with other medications. 

Treatment for Opioid Addiction

Some of these methods include: 

  • Medications (methadone, buprenorphine, or naloxone)
  • Behavioral therapies: (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-CBT)
  • Inpatient and outpatient rehab
  • Medication-assisted therapy (MAT)

Before it is too late, it is important to identify the many warning signs that someone needs treatment. These include withdrawals, dependency, inability to function without the drug, denial, etc. Heavy or prolonged use of opioids causes the body to become physically dependent on the drugs, which in turn causes symptoms of withdrawal that are so stressful that it becomes challenging to stop taking them. 

Like other substance use disorders, Opioid Use Disorder is treatable. At Sana Lake Recovery Center, we tailor treatment to each of our patient’s needs both safely and effectively, as we understand that everyone’s situation is unique. Those in treatment, have to learn to control their condition or disease, through a variety of treatment methods and programs to make behavioral changes to be on a journey to a successful recovery. 

The detox process from any drug is awful and difficult, to say the least. Detoxification is the process of removing all of the substance or drug of choice from the entire body. Except during this process, the body is so dependent on these opioids, that the goal is to wean someone off of them completely. However, the reaction to this process is extremely intense. 

When a drug hasn’t been taken for some time, the body craves it, and therefore, starts going through withdrawals as a result. These symptoms include: shaking, nausea/vomiting, sweats/chills, fatigue, etc. When opioids are completely clear from one’s body and bloodstream, treatment can begin. 

Medically-Assisted Therapy is the Most Effective Treatment for Opioid Detox

Treatment for opioid abuse and addiction can help you; change your attitudes and behaviors related to drug use, learn important life skills and coping skills, and stick with a regimen and other forms of treatment, such as medicines. 

Medically supervised opioid withdrawal and detoxification involve the administration of medication to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms that occur when an opioid-dependent patient stops using opioids. The main purpose of the supervised withdrawal is to safely and successfully transition a patient to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder.

What is Medically-Assisted Treatment? (MAT)

During MAT, specialists in opioid treatment use anti-craving medications, most commonly, naltrexone (Vivitrol), buprenorphine (Suboxone), or methadone. Comprehensive therapy and support are crucial in this process. It’s important to help address the situation as a whole, meaning all factors related to opioid dependence, including withdrawal, cravings, and relapse prevention. 

People dealing with this physical dependence on opioids, unfortunately, are known to experience multiple relapses throughout treatment. During this treatment, addiction specialists are aiming to help a patient abstain from opioid use so that their tolerance over time decreases. 

Benefits of Medically-Assisted Treatment

When compared to recovery treatment without medication research has proven MAT does the following: 

  • Increases abstinence from opioids 
  • Reduces the risk of relapse 
  • Increases treatment retention 
  • Improves social functioning

If a person practices abstinence but ends up relapsing after some time has passed, they are also at high risk of overdosing, because their body is not used to absorbing the same dosage or amount of drug. Therefore, by using medically-assisted treatment methods as a means of opioid detox, during one’s recovery, this will reduce one’s risk of overdose, relapse, and most importantly, death. 

There is always a high risk of relapse during treatment for those suffering from addiction. However, during medication-assisted treatment, this is more unlikely, than those receiving no help from specific detox medications. 

To clear up misconceptions, people who are seeking treatment for addiction through a 12-step program may have been told that medically-assisted treatment is just substituting one addictive drug for another. This is extremely false, as the medications used during MAT for opioid addiction are just the opposite. Individuals are given medication to detox, and most importantly, to help stop the cravings, in hopes to end the control factor and dependency on these drugs, and enter into recovery. This evidence-based treatment approach has often been successful at helping people overcome opioid addiction and maintain long-term recovery. 

Sana Lake Will Help You Recover

At Sana Lake Recovery Center located in Dittmer, MO, we believe in medically-assisted treatment is best suited for our patients needing treatment for opioid addiction. Our mission is to help our patients end this dependence and control these pain killers has over their lives, leading them into a healthy lifestyle, consisting of recovery and long-term sobriety.  

Our team is committed to making sure you succeed as you pursue freedom from opioids. Know you are not alone, and help is available! If you are ready to take back control over your life and become sober, contact us today at (636) 707-2097. Click here to learn more about medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid addiction. 

References

 

Article Reviewed by David Sherman, MD

David Sherman, MDDavid Sherman, MD is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (FASAM) and board certified in Addiction Medicine with the American Board of Preventive Medicine. He is a native Missourian and graduated medical school at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine. Dr. Sherman completed a two-year fellowship in Addiction Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He leads a highly trained staff of master level certified addiction professionals. Men and women from all over Missouri and the United States come to Sana Lake Recovery Center to get the care they need and deserve.

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