Pharmacological Treatments to Heroin Use Disorder

When treating individuals with heroin use disorder, a multidisciplinary approach is a must. However, experts highly recommend that pharmacological treatment be used as an indispensable part of the entire approach. But how can this be done safely and effectively? Read further to find out.

FDA-Approved Drugs in Treating Heroin Use Disorder

1. Buprenorphine

Buprenorphine provides relief from drug cravings without the need to experience that “high” that is often associated with opioids. Buprenorphine is commonly used in substitution treatment for people diagnosed with heroin dependence or addiction. As the prescriber starts to taper down the substitute, the person being treated can also begin to withdraw from heroin use with minimal discomfort.

This is why buprenorphine has gained a reputation for allowing the person being treated to circumvent those nasty symptoms associated with heroin withdrawal. Consequently, the patient can now focus on the treatment process and will not easily get distracted by withdrawal symptoms. This drug is also prescribed for individuals who were found to have contraindication to methadone.

Another drug called Suboxone which is a combination of naloxone and buprenorphine is also used for treating heroin use disorder. Its naloxone content works to reverse the effects that opioids have on a person’s brain while its naloxone content is beneficial in preventing the symptoms of withdrawal.

Suboxone is preferred by many experts for treating heroin addiction because it is less habit-forming than methadone. Note that Suboxone is a brand name that is used for treating people plagued with the symptoms of heroin dependence. This drug works to relieve withdrawal symptoms of both illegal and prescribed types of opioids.

Suboxone is usually not administered to individuals who have developed dependence on long-acting opioids. Instead, they will be prescribed with buprenorphine-only medication.

2. Methadone

Methadone is a drug which has been used since the 1950s in treating heroin use disorder. In fact, methadone has been recognized by the World Health Organization as among the list of essential medicines. This highlights the efficacy of methadone for use in treating heroin dependence.

This medication is often prescribed orally and is considered as a slow-acting agonist for opioids which means it reaches the brain in a gradual manner. As a result, patients who have been on Methadone greatly benefit especially patients who do not respond well to other types of medications.

In turn, patients who have been prescribed methadone are less likely to experience the rush and this significantly reduces one’s tendency to use heroin. Anyone who is currently undergoing methadone treatment yet still tries to take heroin may find that its euphoric effects have been suppressed.

Research reveals that the use of methadone in treating heroin use disorder significantly reduces one’s tendency to get involved in criminal activities such as stealing. With methadone treatment, people are now more inclined to engage in productive activities which makes them better parents, students or employees.

3. Naltrexone

Naltrexone works to block the effects of opioids. If taking methadone and buprenorphine leads to the reduction of cravings for heroin, naltrexone eliminates one’s desire to take it. This is made possible by blocking the opioid receptors in the brain.

However, naltrexone has also been found to trigger withdrawal symptoms if it is administered to a person who is still currently dependent on heroin or any other opioids. This is why experts advise that an individual must refrain from using heroin at least a week or ten days before opting to undergo naltrexone treatment. This will help lessen the chances of it triggering any withdrawal symptoms.

Another good thing about taking naltrexone is the fact that it does not encourage physical dependence. Its long-acting formulation called Vivitrol gained an FDA approval last 2010 for use among patients undergoing treatment for heroin addiction.

This drug has been found to work with much efficacy in preventing relapse especially for individuals who had been through opioid detoxification. Its injectable version can be administered only once a month which means there is no need for daily dosing. This improves compliance on the part of the patient and such is helpful for achieving sobriety.

Pharmacological Treatments Reduces Mortality and Morbidity

Pharmacological treatments have been found effective in reducing opioid-related mortality and morbidity. In treating patients diagnosed with heroin use disorder, pharmacotherapy is highly recommended and is considered as a crucial part of an integrated approach to treatment.

Pharmacological treatment must be used alongside psychotherapy and psychosocial intervention programs. These FDA-approved medications for treating heroin addiction work wonders in improving the overall outcome of the treatment. Although complete abstinence is always the ultimate aim, a lot of patients nowadays are doing well with life-long substitution therapy. With these medications being used in one’s treatment plan for heroin use disorder, chances are high that an improved quality of life is achieved. Not to mention the significant improvement in one’s likelihood of achieving complete sobriety.

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