What is The First Line of Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder?

An opioid use disorder is when a person is abusing any type of opioid drug. Opioids include heroin, all prescription pain killers, morphine, opium, fentanyl, and methadone. Opioid use disorders are referred to as OUD. There is a distinction between opioid-dependent and opioid-addicted. Both share burden of causing physical dependency and withdrawal symptoms.

However, addiction to opioids is when the person uses it to get high, and physical dependency on opioids relates to prescription opioid drugs that manage chronic pain. Many people who use prescription opioid medications can develop an addiction that also leads them to use street drugs like heroin.

Opioid withdrawal syndrome is a life-threatening condition resulting from opioid dependence. (NIH)

How Many People Are Addicted To Opioids?

The latest statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration state that in 2020 opioid use disorders are more common in younger people. And most opioid drug abusers are addicted to prescription opioids, not street drugs.

AMONG PEOPLE AGED 12 OR OLDER IN 2020, 3.4 PERCENT (OR 9.5 MILLION PEOPLE) MISUSED OPIOIDS IN THE PAST YEAR. THE PERCENTAGE WAS HIGHEST AMONG YOUNG ADULTS AGED 18 TO 25, FOLLOWED BY ADULTS AGED 26 OR OLDER, THEN ADOLESCENTS AGED 12 TO 17. THE VAST MAJORITY OF PEOPLE WHO MISUSED OPIOIDS IN THE PAST YEAR MISUSED PRESCRIPTION PAIN RELIEVERS). SPECIFICALLY, 9.3 MILLION PEOPLE AGED 12 OR OLDER MISUSED PRESCRIPTION PAIN RELIEVERS IN THE PAST YEAR COMPARED WITH 902,000 PEOPLE WHO USED HEROIN. (SAMHSA)

Understanding Opioid Addiction And Physical Withdrawal Symptoms

When someone is physically dependent and or emotionally addicted to an opioid, they rely on opioids to feel normal and to prevent withdrawal symptoms. As time goes on, they will also need more of the drug to achieve euphoria or to manage pain. This is known as drug tolerance. When the person stops taking the drugs, the body goes into opioid withdrawal.

Withdrawal from opioids is extremely difficult, and the person does become violently sick. Their symptoms resemble the harsh flu or cold with chills, fever, sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, and anxiety.

Why Are Opioid Drugs Dangerous To Quit?

The biggest concern for any opioid type of drug user (physically dependent or addicted) is the risk for accidental overdose once they have quit. Even though a person has a gigantic tolerance to how much opioid they can handle, their body quickly resets itself to normal once they stop using it. This means that their tolerance of opioids returns to zero. Unfortunately, many opioid addicts and opioid medication users do not realize this and will use the same amount they did before quitting and overdosing. Other life-threatening withdrawal symptoms include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart palpitations
  • Severe insomnia
  • Inability to eat or drink fluids
  • Racing thoughts and paranoia
  • Intense cravings
  • Desperation for an opioid drug that causes risky behaviors

How Should Opioids Use Disorder Be Treated?

The first line of treatment for an opioid-addicted or physically dependent person is to receive opioid replacement medications. There are safe and effective medications that cure opioid withdrawal symptoms quickly. The person quitting their opioid will need to be placed into a medically supervised opioid detox.

The detox program for opioid addictions will also provide counseling to help them cope and emotional support to keep them on the path to recovery. Medical doctors and other specialists also monitor them to maintain their physical health and comfort. The success of opioid replacement medications has made them the first line of treatment in all rehabs and treatment centers.

What Are The Different Medications For Treating Opioid Use Disorder?

OUD medications will include buprenorphine (Suboxone, Subutex), methadone, and extended-release naltrexone (Vivitrol). Each of these is the most effective for minimizing opioid withdrawal symptoms and providing long-term abstinence. In addition, the medicine Suboxone is prescribed for maintenance as it contains an opioid blocker.

The treatment of opioid use disorders can also include Klonopin, a benzodiazepine for anxiety, and sleep medications to conquer insomnia. The other part of treatment for opioid use disorders is evidence-based therapy methods.

What Are Evidence-based Therapies?

Evidence-based therapies include behavioral therapy and pharmacotherapy ( opioid replacement drugs). The ideal program for someone on opioids is to detox, remain on opioid replacements, and attend a long-term treatment that provides in-depth counseling and therapy. The types of therapy that are most effective for opioid use disorders are cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, one on one counseling, holistic therapy, and group counseling.

“OUD Medications should be combined with behavioral counseling for a “whole patient” approach, known as Medication- Assisted-Treatment” (NIDA)

How Long Does It Take To Get Over Opioid Use Disorders?

The amount of time it takes a person to detox from opioids averages about two weeks. The necessary rehab timeframe is three months or longer. Getting over an addiction to opioids is a lifelong process. The disease of addiction is never cured, and any drug addict or alcoholic cannot return safely to their drug or alcohol intake. Relapse is especially dangerous for opioid addicts because they can die. Whether you suffer from opioid use disorder or any other type of drug addiction, we can help you on the path to sobriety.

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