Heroin is a highly addictive substance derived from drugs called opiates. Morphine, codeine, and methadone are extracted from opium found in the poppy plant.
Heroin is a semi-synthetic opiate, meaning part of the drug is naturally-occurring and part is man-made. Other semi-synthetic opiates are the prescription painkillers you may be familiar with: Vicodin, Hydrodan, Lortab, Norco, Dilaudid, OxyContin, Percodan, Oxydose, and many more.
Fully synthetic drugs, designed to mimic the effects of opiates and semi-synthetic opiates, are called opioids. These may be less familiar to you, unless you or someone you know has been addicted to an opiate and has used an opioid as part of treatment. Buprenorphine, Levomethadyl acetate (LAAM), Meperidine, Methadone in prescription form, Propoxyphene, Naloxone, Naltrexone, Tramadol, and several others are used to treat heroin and other opiate addiction.
How Can One Drug Be Used to Treat Addiction to Another?
When an individual has reached the point of physical and psychological addiction to an opiate, the discontinuation of opiates altogether is extremely difficult. With the help of medications, an addict can experience the substitution of a higher-risk opiate with a lower risk one.
Opiate withdrawal, the collection of symptoms that occur when an opiate addict stops using for even just a short period of time, leads most back to opiate use. It is hard to endure the physical pain once the drug that has been taking away all your pain is now gone.
When an addict seeks help, and opiate withdrawal is a choose, being medically monitored is important, and helpful in reducing the pain and discomfort.
Methadone for Heroin Addiction
Liquid methadone, administered in a small dose everyday, is one effective way to manage an opiate addiction. Methadone is an opiate itself, so the user is never fully abstinent from their drug class of choice, but methadone offers a much lower risk of overdose (when used as prescribed) and risky behaviors associated with stronger opiate use.
There are no needles involved, there is no need to put yourself into dangerous situations, and there is no risk of contracting various diseases (like HIV and Hepatitis C) when participating in a methadone maintenance program.
Cravings for heroin (and prescription painkillers) are easier to manage while taking methadone, and withdrawal symptoms are kept at bay. When an addict goes to a methadone clinic everyday and takes the dose of liquid methadone, everything that usually leads that person to heroin use is kept satisfied by the methadone.
The problem with methadone as a medication for treating heroin addiction though is that it can also be abused. There are stories of people taking the dose of methadone home for a few days in a row, without the clinic realizing it, and then taking a whole week’s worth of methadone at one time in order to get high. The problem is addressed by most clinics requiring clients to physically ingest the medication right when received.
Buprenorphine for Heroin Addiction
This opioid, or synthetic opiate, is marketed under several pharmaceutical names, the most common being Suboxone, Subutex, and Buprenex. When used in low doses, these drugs work as opioid agonists, meaning they dull pain without offering a high, and in high doses, work as opiate antagonists, meaning the block the opiate receptors in the brain so the user feels no cravings or withdrawal symptoms. Essentially these pharmaceutical drugs trick the brain into thinking an opiate has been used.
Subutex is pure Buprenorphine. Suboxone is Buprenorphine and Naloxone combined. Naloxone works by blocking all effects of heroin and other opiates. It is the drug that is administered when someone is overdosing on heroin, so the mix of Naloxone and Buprenorphine cover all the bases, so to speak. The risk of abuse is lower with Buprenorphine than with Methadone, and there is much less chance of overdose.
Medication Plus Therapeutic Interventions for Heroin Addiction
While medications help with the physical cravings and withdrawal symptoms, they do not get the root of the person’s addiction. Why did this individual start using heroin, Vicodin, OxyContin, codeine, or any other opiate? What pain from the past is unresolved?
Taking Methadone or Suboxone everyday can keep you from using heroin, but that is only half of the problem. A good drug and alcohol rehab program combines individual therapy, peer group processing, an individual treatment plan, and holistic approaches to healing to treat the whole person who has become addicted to opiates.
The team at Sovereign Health Group of California is here to field any questions you may have, and to help you determine what form of treatment is right for you or for a loved one. Call now!
Post by: Marissa Maldonado