3 Options for Treating Opioid Addiction
Prevention & Treatment Complete, long-term recovery from opioid addiction is possible — and your health insurance might even pay for treatment. Here’s how.
“Opioid addiction affects people from all races and ethnicities, from every socioeconomic level,” says Samuel Ball, president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. Whether heroin or prescription painkillers like oxycodone, all opioids hook people by over-stimulating the brain’s dopamine reward system, making them among the most addictive drugs in existence.
The good news? There are more treatment options for opioid addiction today than ever before — and they work. “I see lives turned around,” says Dr. John Knight, who founded the Boston Children’s Hospital's Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research. “It’s really encouraging.”
The different treatments for opioid addiction “don’t work equally well for everyone,” says Ball. “For some, getting an injection of Vivitrol is the right path. For another Suboxone might work, and for another only methadone will work.” But they’re all helping opioid addicts recover. “What keeps me in the field is meeting people who have turned their lives around. There are a lot of them, and we need to hear their stories.”
Going cold turkey for a month, often a painful process, allows the brain’s dopamine system to return to normal. After that, support groups like Narcotics Anonymous help many people stay clean. Because opioids imprint on the brain’s limbic system, where memories of food and sex are stored, powerful cravings can strike people who’ve been drug-free for years. Support and counseling can help manage cravings and other issues.
Methadone treats heroin addiction by attaching to the opioid receptors to prevent the withdrawal symptoms and cravings associated with opiates. Because methadone causes side effects like drowsiness, patients can only receive it through daily visits to DEA-registered clinics. Ball says these visits can serve as “a combination of case management and counseling support” for patients.
3. Buprenorphine and Naltrexone
Newer drugs — including Subutex, Suboxone and Vivitrol — also kill the craving for opioids. Because they don’t have the side effects of methadone, a primary care doctor can prescribe a 30-day supply, and they’re covered by most health insurance. Patients receive counseling as well, especially during early treatment. Dr. Knight reports that in a nine-month follow-up period for 100 of his patients, two-thirds stayed off opioids.