New trends in drug abuse across the nation have caused law enforcement and the healthcare industry to combine their efforts in combatting the problem. Narcotics, such as oxycontin, hydrocodone, and heroin, have led the nation into a crisis of opioid addiction. Due to their debilitating physical and mental withdrawal symptoms, medical providers over the years have sought out various methods to alleviate the effects. One current model uses the drug Suboxone and is being praised by both doctors and patients due to the relatively high success rates and low risks. To understand the evolution of opiate withdrawal treatment, it’s important to know the causes behind the changes.
The Pharmacy to Street Pipeline
In recent years, painkiller prescriptions have been on the rise across the nation. According to one audit, between 1991 and 2013, figures have almost tripled, going from 76 million prescriptions to nearly 207 million. Patients report that the use of heroin is a dangerous but viable replacement because it is cheaper and more accessible. Furthermore, the addition of other, more powerful opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil have appeared on the streets. Simply put, the rise in prescriptions and the development of other opioids have driven up the amount of abuse.
Comparative Risks of Maintenance
Methadone maintenance therapy was once a standard medical approach to the problem of addiction. This type of therapy gives patients a structured dosing protocol in an outpatient setting. As a form of opiate withdrawal treatment, methadone allows individuals to slowly taper their doses until they are ready to stop taking it. However, some risks do exist. The drug has the potential for abuse and has led to overdose deaths. While methadone is meant as a safer substitute for more harmful narcotics, users report that the withdrawal symptoms are harsher and more prolonged when methadone is not taken correctly.
Advancements in Pharmacology and Awareness
Suboxone, the current leader in opiate withdrawal treatment, is the combination of two chemicals: buprenorphine, a synthetic, and naloxone which acts as a blocker. Due to the unique chemical structure, suboxone does not produce the “high” associated with other opioids. It instead alleviates the withdrawal symptoms by attaching to the necessary pain receptors while allowing other receptors to rejuvenate, therefore working to decrease detox symptoms. Also, suboxone’s ceiling effect lessens the risk of overdose and abuse. Naloxone blocks opiate’s effects on the body, in turn removing the patient’s option of a return to their illicit drug of choice.
The New Hope
Throughout the years, opiate withdrawal treatment has changed to meet the demands of trends in drug abuse. Law enforcement agencies are helping to direct individuals towards treatment while doctors and medical centers are providing psychotherapy, 12-step group participation, and low-risk chemical management. What was once a dark time for the addict can now be full of hope because of these new methods of treatment.