Several effective heroin addiction treatment approaches are available today. These fall under two broad categories viz., pharmacological and behavioral. Both these approaches help in restoring some degree of normalcy in the brain functioning and behavior of the addicts, which in turn helps in increasing the employment rates, and in lowering the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and criminal behavior. Though these approaches work well when used alone, studies have proved that integrating both of these is the most effective treatment approach.
Pharmacological heroin addiction treatment is the use of medications for treating heroin addiction. Research findings have confirmed that addiction to opioid decreases the use of this drug, transmission of infectious diseases, and criminal activity; and increases the retention of the addict in the treatment program.
Heroin addicts who to heroin start quitting the drug, at first experience withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, pain, vomiting and diarrhea. These may even be quite severe. Taking medications at this detoxification stage can help a lot in easing the craving and other related symptoms, which quite often persuade the addict to relapse. While detoxification is not a treatment for addiction, it plays a useful role when applied prior to taking a treatment.
Medications that have been developed for treating heroin addiction act through the very same receptors as the addictive drug. However, these are safer and do not lead to behaviors that cause addiction. Three different types of medications are used for this purpose. These are
- Agonists- These activate the receptors of the addictive drug.
- Partial agonists- These activate the addictive drug receptors but generate a lower response.
- Antagonists- These medications block the receptor, and obstruct the gratifying effects of the addictive drug.
One of the above-mentioned medications is used based on the patient’s medical need specifications and other factors. The well established and result generating medications include:
Methadone: Methadone is an opioid agonist, which is slow acting. This drug is administered orally so as to ensure that it reaches your brain in a slow manner. If it is administered through other ways than oral administration, a “high” will occur. As early as 1960s, this drug was introduced and has been in use since then to excellently treat heroin addiction. This drug is known to work well especially in cases when the patients do not respond positively to other medications. However, this drug is available only through approved outpatient treatment programs, which on a daily basis provides this drug to the patients.
Buprenorphine: This drug is a partial opioid agonist. It relives the cravings for the addictive drug without generating “high” or other harmful side effects. One of the Buprenorphine formulations is Suboxone that is administered sublingually or orally. It contains an opioid antagonist called naloxone which hampers the attempts made to get high by injecting the medicine. If a patient injects this medicine, the naloxone present in it will produce the withdrawal symptoms. However, if he takes it orally as prescribed, the induction of the withdrawal symptoms is averted. In the year 2002, the FDA approved Buprenorphine. This is the first medicine made eligible for prescription by certified physicians. This meant that the addicted patients need not visit specialized clinics for receiving the treatment. Thus it was made reachable to many. In the year 2013, the FDA approved Suboxone’s two generic forms too, which made the treatment more widely affordable.
Naltrexone: This medication is an opioid antagonist which blocks the working of the opioids. Further, this medication is not sedating or addictive too. However, it has limited effectiveness as many patients find it incompliable. Recently FDA approved Vivitrol, an injectable Nattrexone formulation. This is a long acting drug that needs to be administered once in a month.
There are several effective behavioral therapies available for heroin addiction. These can be given for patients in residential or outpatient settings. Treatment approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy and contingency management have generated effective restoration in heroin addicted patients, particularly when applied along with medications.
In the contingency management strategy, the patients are given “points” whenever they show negative to drug tests. These points can be then exchanged for goods that promote a healthy lifestyle. The cognitive behavioral therapy works to help in the modification of the addicted patient’s behaviors and expectations related to the use of drugs, and to enhance the skills required for coping with the different stresses in life.
It is important to find and apply the treatment which best suits the specific needs of the addicted patient. The behavioral treatments aid the patients in being engaged in the treatment process, change their behaviors and attitudes connected with drug abuse, and enhance the skills pertaining to leading a healthy life. These treatment approaches can also increase the effectiveness of the medications and prompt the patients to take the treatment for a longer period. The treatment for drug addiction can be done by applying several behavioral approaches in a variety of settings. These are discussed below in brief.
- The outpatient behavioral treatment: This includes a wide range of programs for the addicted patients who regularly visit a clinic. Most of these programs offer counseling, either group or individual. There are also programs that offer behavioral treatments like multi-dimensional family therapy, motivational incentives, cognitive behavioral therapy, and motivational interviewing.
- The residential behavioral treatment: The residential programs are quite effective, particulary for those who are severely addicted. One of the residential behavioral treatment providing centers are the therapeutic communities (TCs). These are highly structured programs where the addicted patients reside at a place for about 6 to 12 months. The patients under this program are usually those who have been addicted for a long while, who have involved in serious crimes, and whose social functioning has been seriously impaired.
Principles Of Addiction Treatment
- Heroin addiction is a complex problem, which it is quite treatable.
- There are several treatments available for this, but no single treatment works for everyone.
- It is important to choose the right combination of these treatments as per the patient’s multiple needs.
- It is important for the patients to stay in the heroin treatment for an adequate period.
- The most often used approach for treating addiction is counseling, either group or individual.
- For most patients, medicines play a significant part in the treatment of heroin addiction in combination with the behavioral therapies.
- Any patient’s treatment plan should be continually assessed and modified as per need so as to make sure that his changing needs are met.
- Medical detoxification of the addict is the first step in the treatment for drug addiction.
- Several drug addicts also are affected by mental disorders.
- The addicts themselves need not voluntarily take up the heroin treatments.
- Drug intake during the treatment must constantly be monitored, in most cases lapses do occur during the treatment.
- Treatment programs should include assessing the patients’ health in terms of the presence of hepatitis B and C, AIDS/HIV, tuberculosis, etc.