Three Medications that Treat Opioid Addiction

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With opioid addiction and overdose rates rapidly rising, there are two medications that are considered critical treatment tools that can help patients successfully overcome opioid misuse.

Known as medication-assisted treatment or MAT therapy, these opioid medications are an effective way to help achieve sobriety and maintain recovery.

When used at a safe and controlled level in a clinical treatment setting, opioid medications can decrease discomfort, prevent dangerous symptoms and help with cravings.

What Are the Facts about Opioid Addiction?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioids include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others. 

Opioids are highly addictive due to the combination of pain relief and euphoria, with even legally prescribed use by a doctor leading to dependence, addiction, overdose incidents, and deaths.

As opioid misuse has evolved into a national crisis, the statistics regarding the epidemic reveal the alarmingly addictive nature of the substance (from the National Institutes of Health):

  • Roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
  • Between 8 and 12 percent of people using an opioid for chronic pain develop an opioid use disorder.
  • An estimated 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.
  • About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.

Overdose rates are at record highs across the country, with more than 104,000 Americans dying from drug overdose in the 12-month period ending in September 2021. The rapid rise of overdose deaths is being driven primarily by the lethal synthetic opioid fentanyl, increasingly mixed — sometimes unknowingly — with other drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine. 

How Does MAT Help Opioid Addiction?

To successfully treat opioid addiction and reduce overdose rates, a medical and therapeutic intervention, medication assisted treatment (MAT) is used in some detox and residential treatment settings. MAT uses FDA-approved medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide a “whole-patient” approach to the treatment of opioid addiction.

The benefits of using MAT in treating opioid addiction include an increase in social functioning and retention in treatment, meaning MAT patients are more likely to complete the full continuum of addiction treatment. Plus, MAT restores balance to the brain circuits affected by addiction, allowing the patient’s brain to heal while working toward recovery.

Put simply, MAT can save the lives of people addicted to opioids. It is also safe after addiction treatment for people in recovery to take medications used in MAT for months, years, several years, or even a lifetime — with great potential to decrease opioid use and lower opioid-related overdose deaths.

What Medications Help Opioid Addiction?

1. Naltrexone

One medication used for opioid-dependent patients is naltrexone. This blocks the opioid receptors in the brain, making opioids ineffective. If a patient relapses on an opioid drug, no effect is felt.

2. Methadone

Methadone must be administered in a qualified methadone clinic, usually on a daily basis. When dosed correctly, methadone does not cause euphoria or a “high” and suppresses the urge to use other opioids. 

3. Buprenorphine

This medication goes by several brand names including Suboxone and Zubsolv. It is considered a partial agonist, meaning it partially stimulates opioid receptors. Because of this, buprenorphine is thought to have a “ceiling effect” which means above a certain dose, it will have no greater effect. This is important as it makes it difficult for an opioid-dependent patient to experience euphoria or to overdose on buprenorphine. However, in combination with other medications that can cause sedation such as benzodiazepines, especially alprazolam (Xanax), overdose can occur.

How to Get Help for Opioid Addiction

If you are addicted to opioids, don’t wait to seek help. It is critical to find a treatment center that provides medically monitored detoxification to ensure your safety and MAT therapy to help prevent relapse.

At Valley Hope, our medical staff works closely with patients to customize an appropriate MAT plan, and overall addiction treatment and recovery plan, while also providing medically-monitored detox to help ease withdrawal in a safe, supportive environment. 

The local clinical admissions team at Valley Hope can provide a free level of care screening to determine if you or someone you care about requires clinical treatment for opioid addiction.

Valley Hope provides a full continuum of substance abuse care including online addiction treatment through 14 programs across six states including Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. Our programs provide compassionate, evidenced-based therapies, medical detox services, residential treatment, outpatient treatment and virtual treatment programs. For immediate help 24/7, call our Local Admissions Team at (800) 544-5101.