Opioid substitution therapy is a powerful opioid risk tool to help people who are addicted to opiate-based drugs such as heroin, morphine, or OxyContin safely detox. While the ultimate goal of opioid substitution therapy is ultimately total abstinence from all opioid drugs, it has a number of other characteristics that benefit drug users and the communities in which they live. These include fewer cases of disease transmission, reduced drug-related crime, and fewer deaths from overdoses and suicides.

Opioid substitution therapy: how it works

Drugs like heroin are potent and fast-acting. This means that the euphoric effect is felt almost immediately, it is intense but short-lived. This type of therapy works by providing addicts with a similar opiate-based drug that produces a less intense euphoric effect but lasts much longer.

The idea is to gradually wean the addict off the stronger, faster-acting illicit chemicals by gradually reducing the dose of opioid substitution medications until abstinence is achieved. This type of therapy reduces the severity and duration of acute withdrawal symptoms; a major barrier to treatment for many opioid addicts.

The main drugs used in the treatment

Three main drugs are currently in use, although some countries use other drugs and some allow the use of morphine and even heroin to treat certain types of addicts. In general, medications used during detox and subsequent opioid drug treatment include:

* Methadone: one of the most widely used opioid substitution drugs; Methadone is also often diverted to the street despite strict controls.

* Buprenorphine/Suboxone: Once marketed as a powerful analgesic for chronic pain patients and postoperative patients, buprenorphine is the leading drug used in opioid substitution therapy, overtaking the popular methadone in many clinics.

* Naltrexone: Used to treat alcohol and opioid dependence, naltrexone works by directly targeting receptor sites where neurotransmission occurs, resulting in euphoria.

Why is opioid substitution therapy needed during drug detox?

This treatment offers significant advantages over traditional drug detoxification methods. This includes the ability of treatment professionals to properly dose an addict in order to reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms, especially strong drug cravings and the possibility of respiratory depression and other medical complications.

Therapy generally results in greater patient retention, allowing addicts to stay in treatment longer than traditional methods. It also reduces the amount of illicit drugs consumed by patients, as fewer illicit substances are required for the patient to achieve the desired effect.

In general, addicts on opioid substitution therapy protocols tend to stop earlier and stay clean longer than addicts on other protocols or no treatment at all.

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