Rehabilitation programs sometimes use drugs to help patients who have opioid addictions in order to ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Patients in these medication-assisted treatments are generally given one of two drugs – suboxone or methadone. While methadone is the more commonly known drug used to treat opioid addiction, suboxone has proven to be successful for some patients even though it’s not as widely available.
Suboxone is the name brand of buprenorphine, which was originally used as a pain killer, but it has been found to drastically reduce opiate withdrawal symptoms and cravings. The drug also has naloxone in it, which closes the receptors in the brain, blocking the effects of opioids. The combination of the two drugs can help someone with an addiction feel “normal” again because it does not cause euphoria, but it lessens cravings and the other withdrawal symptoms they may be feeling. It’s as if the brain was tricked into thinking that it has had a dose of drugs.
Naloxone was added to it to discourage users from snorting it or injecting it in order to get high. If it is ingested in any way other than orally, it will go straight to the brain and kill any opioid in the receptors, causing a quick and severe withdrawal.
If someone on suboxone does relapse and take an opiate, he or she won’t feel the effect of it because suboxone will block it. The drug wears off within 24 hours, so the theory is that the patient will think about what he or she has done and reconsider going back to using.
Another interesting aspect of suboxone is that it has a ceiling effect. Taking more of it won’t give the user the full opioid effect. That’s not the case with methadone, which is a full opioid that can be abused and can result in overdoses. Some doctors believe suboxone is a better option for treating addiction in medication-assisted programs because of the ceiling effect.
Doctors are limited in the number of suboxone prescriptions they can write because of federal regulations, so it’s not always an option for those suffering from opiate addiction. Because of rising death rates from opioid overdose, there has been a push to loosen regulations to allow more access to those who could benefit from it.
There are many opponents to medication-assisted treatments because they believe it’s just trading one drug for another. Some also believe that the person using a drug to treat addiction isn’t really sober even though they are on a legally prescribed drug taken under their doctor’s guidance.
There is no simple solution to addiction therapy. It must be approached in a holistic method. Medication-assisted treatments programs should be combined with therapy, education and other support that resolve behavioral issues that may have led to their addiction.
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