Rehab for heroin addiction usually involves some form of medical detox. Heroin dependence completely rewires the brain. It causes an influx of dopamine and other neurotransmitters. Those who have developed dependence usually experience serious side effects when withdrawing from the drug. Heroin withdrawal symptoms can be difficult to cope with. Depending on the severity of the substance abuse, withdrawal symptoms can even turn deadly. To ease patients into transition, heroin rehab relies on a vast array of drugs. This treatment program is also known as Opiate Replacement Therapy (ORT).
The most common medications used in heroin treatment include methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone. Each medication works in a different way. They each have their benefits and unique characteristics. Understanding the differences between each drug can help many patients determine which one is the best option for them. It’s important to note that each treatment center will offer a different selection of drugs. If you’re interested in a specific drug treatment, it’s best to call the heroin addiction treatment center ahead of time to get a better idea of what’s offered.
“According to a study conducted from 2002 through 2011, those who used non-medical pain relievers were 19 times more likely to abuse heroin than those who didn’t.”
All of the drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for opioid addiction treatment is backed up by numerous studies. These evidence-based approaches are effective and have high success rates. Heroin detox will cleanse the body of all toxins and metabolites. It’ll give patients a clean slate to work with. This article will delve deeper into the different types of drugs that are used to treat heroin abuse.
A Quick Look at the Top 3 Drugs Used at Heroin Rehab Programs
Each drug administered at the rehab facility offers unique features that make them stand out from the other options. The drugs effectively minimize the effects of heroin abuse and help patients detox from heroin. Although they’re effective, heroin detox should be paired with behavioral therapy for optimal results. Let’s take a look at the three different drugs used in heroin detox below.
The longest drug used at most heroin addiction treatment centers is methadone. Methadone can also be used to treat pain. It’s a full opioid agonist, which means that it works in the same way as opioids. It’s basically a weaker opioid that’s being used to substitute the stronger opioids that are being abused. Methadone stimulates the same opioid receptors in the brain, and will create feelings of euphoria. The difference between methadone and heroin is its potency and the side effects involved. It is far easier to withdraw and taper off of methadone than heroin.
Methadone comes in many forms; however, it’s most usually prescribed as a pill or tablet. Patients usually take these pills three times a day to keep withdrawal symptoms of the substance use disorder at bay. Methadone oral tablets can cause drowsiness and slowed breathing. However, most of these side effects usually disappear after some time.
Buprenorphine is similar to methadone. It’s a partial opioid agonist. This means that it works in a similar way. The only difference is that it has a “ceiling effect”. Only a certain amount of buprenorphine molecules can attach to the opioid receptors in the brain. Once the maximum amount of molecules have attached to the receptors, taking a larger dose won’t have an effect on the patient. Buprenorphine is considered to be a safer alternative to methadone. Patients can’t get addicted to this drug as easily because it’s more difficult to build a tolerance to it. After all, taking a larger dose of this drug won’t give patients a more intense or a longer high.
Just like methadone, buprenorphine comes in many forms. However, it’s usually prescribed as a pill or a tablet when used to treat drug addiction.
In comparison to methadone and buprenorphine, naltrexone, also known as Vivitrol, is a fairly new drug approved by the FDA. This drug is an opioid antagonist, which means that it attaches to opioid receptors in the central nervous system (CNS) in order to block the effects of opioids. This drug is unique in the sense that it doesn’t come in the form of a pill. Instead, patients will receive an injection once a month at the treatment facilities. The drug is injected intramuscularly to the buttocks. It’s a fairly simple and easy medication to take. Patients won’t have to keep a pill schedule or wonder whether they’ve forgotten to take a dose.
Unlike with methadone and buprenorphine, however, patients can’t start taking naltrexone right when they get to the drug rehab center. For naltrexone to work, patients must be free of any alcohol or opioids for at least 7 to 14 days. Otherwise, the medication may interact with the alcohol and drugs. This may lead to sudden opioid withdrawals. Sudden opioid withdrawal can be quite serious and severe. In many situations, it will require immediate medical attention and hospitalization.
The Addictive Nature of Each Drug
The goal of seeking help from a rehab program is to become sober. As a result, many patients may feel hesitant to take any treatment for heroin that can be addictive. Unfortunately, some of these drugs can lead to a secondary addiction. Those who are prone to drug abuse tend to have addictive personalities. This means that they may end up abusing the medications used in treatment for heroin addiction. Let’s take a look at how addictive each of these drugs can be.
The most addictive drug out of the three is methadone. Since this drug is a full opioid agonist, it works in a similar way to heroin. It’s not as strong as heroin, but it stimulates the same receptors. Those who are not careful in using methadone may go from heroin dependent to methadone dependent. Methadone is a drug that patients will need to slowly wean off of. Patients who taper off of methadone too quickly will also experience withdrawal symptoms although these symptoms tend to be less intense than heroin withdrawal symptoms. Patients need to be medically supervised when withdrawing from methadone.
Another thing to keep in mind is that methadone is for the long-term maintenance of heroin abstinence. Most patients take this drug for years. In fact, a 12-month prescription is the minimum length of treatment recommended by most rehab centers.
Unlike methadone, buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist. It works in a similar fashion, but has a maximum threshold as mentioned above. This means that it’s much more difficult to develop a dependence on this drug. Patients do not build a tolerance to it. As a result, it’s a lot more difficult to get addicted to this type of medication. Fewer patients get addicted to methadone than to buprenorphine. This is probably why many medical professionals recommend this drug to patients with highly addictive personalities.
With that said, it’s still possible to develop a secondary addiction to buprenorphine. Patients will need to slowly taper off of this drug, although not as slowly as with methadone.
The latest medication offered by treatment centers is naltrexone. This drug is not addictive and not a narcotic. Patients can quit at any time, although many patients will choose to stay on the drug in order to abstain from heroin use. It is impossible for patients to develop a secondary addiction to this heroin abuse treatment.
Drugs Used in Inpatient vs Outpatient Heroin Rehabilitation
Another important to factor when choosing a medication is whether patients will be choosing an inpatient or outpatient rehab program. Those who opt for an inpatient heroin treatment plan will receive a higher level of care. They receive care from medical professionals 24 hours of the day. On the other hand, those who choose to go with an outpatient rehab program will only receive medical attention several hours each week.
Methadone and buprenorphine are both more suitable for those opting for inpatient treatment. These drugs require around-the-clock medical supervision, especially during the beginning of the treatment plan. The medical staff custom tailors the dose of each drug to the needs of each patient. Some patients will respond more positively to a large dose, whereas others can get away with a small dose. Only an inpatient rehab facility can offer the level of care needed to customize the dose and treatment frequency of each drug.
On the other hand, naltrexone, or Vivitrol injections are suitable for outpatient rehabs. Unlike with methadone and buprenorphine, doctors do not need to tailor the dose of each drug to each patient. The nursing staff will administer the same dose to each patient regardless of the intensity of the symptoms or side effects experienced. Also, since naltrexone involves only a monthly injection, patients do not need as much supervision and care.