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Should Medication Assisted Treatment be Long Term?

Opioid addiction is a chronic condition, more like diabetes than pneumonia. It’s never really cured, only managed. How that addiction is managed depends on the individual case, including how long the addict has been using and how heavily.

There are three medications primarily used in treating opioid addiction. The most well known is methadone. Methadone is a partial opioid agonist, which means it behaves much like an opioid in the brain except the pain killing and euphoric effects are severely blunted. This prevents cravings while allowing the addict to function normally. Although methadone is not a good drug for getting high, some people still try and so it’s only administered at treatment centers.

Another common medication is buprenorphine. It works in a way similar to methadone except there is a ceiling to its effects, meaning that the barely noticeable elevation in mood cannot be enhanced by taking more. This makes it nearly impossible to abuse and difficult to overdose on and recovering addicts can often take it at home with a prescription.

The third common medication is Vivitrol, or naltrexone. It works differently from methadone or buprenorphine. Vivitrol blocks the action of opioids in the brain so that they have no effect. An addict must be completely clean for two weeks before starting Vivitrol. It is usually administered as a shot once a month. Although it blocks the action of opioids, it does eliminate cravings or withdrawal symptoms like methadone or buprenorphine. This sometimes leads addicts to relapse after stopping Vivitrol or trying to overcome the blocking effect with higher doses.

Recovering opioid addicts may need medication indefinitely, depending on the severity of their addiction. This has led some people to assert that medication assisted treatment is only trading one addiction for another. This characterization ignores the fact that long term outcomes are much better for addicts on methadone or buprenorphine than those on heroin or other opioids. Methadone and buprenorphine use don’t escalate, they allow you to function normally, and they reduce or eliminate opioid cravings, which reduces risk of relapse.

Methadone and buprenorphine can be taken safely for years, if necessary. If at some point the recovering addict wants to stop taking medication, her doctor can wean her off gradually. Methadone and buprenorphine are similar enough to opioids that stopping suddenly will cause withdrawal symptoms.

Less is known about the long term use of Vivitrol. It has shown a lower risk of relapse after six months but has not been studied over longer periods. The appeal of Vivitrol is that while taking regular injections, the recovering addict remains drug free–aside from the Vivitrol, of course. Whether an addict stays in recovery after stopping Vivitrol depends on the severity of the addiction and how well the other aspects of the addiction have been addressed in treatment.

Human dignity has value. When a loved one chooses detox, they should be comfortable and treated with respect. Struggling with addiction is not something punished. Recovery should be supported with empathy and acceptance. Gardens Detox stands out, changing the way the industry approaches detox. Call us today for information on our programs:  (844) 325-9168