The COVID-19 pandemic preoccupies the news and has brought life as we knew it to a grinding halt. However, the opioid epidemic that had been raging long before the novel coronavirus appeared hasn’t stopped in the wake of the global pandemic. In fact, the opioid epidemic is still claiming lives every day.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioids were responsible for more than 70% of all drug overdoses in 2019 — that’s 49,860 people. The problem quickly spun out of control because opioids are incredibly powerful substances that become highly addictive and change the chemistry in the brain.
If you have an opioid addiction, there’s hope. At Alpha Care Medical in Seaford, Harrington, Dover, and Millsboro, Delaware, our team has successfully treated many patients by using medication-assisted treatment (MAT) conjunction with behavioral therapy. Here’s what you need to know.
Opioids taken over time can alter the way the brain works. So, if someone is prescribed a drug for pain, such as codeine or morphine, their brain can begin to tolerate the drug, thus lessening the pain-relieving effect. This can lead the person to take more of the drug or take it more often. But, again, this can lead the brain to want even more.
The reason the craving becomes an addiction is that the physical, mental, and emotional effects are too intense to bear. These are the symptoms of withdrawal that make it nearly impossible for people to quit opioids by sheer willpower alone.
This is where medication-assisted treatment comes in. The substances in medication-assisted treatment eliminate the withdrawal symptoms, so you can wean off the opioids without the extremely negative experience of withdrawals.
There are three main types of drugs used in medication-assisted treatment, and each is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in opioid addiction treatments.
Ironically, methadone — which is one of the drugs we often use to help patients kick opioid addiction — is derived from an opioid as well. But, the brain acts differently when someone takes methadone, which is also known as Dolophine®.
Methadone is considered a long-acting agonist. It binds to your body’s opioid receptors — just like the opioid that you’ve been taking — but it doesn’t make you feel “high.” Instead, it stops your cravings and allows you to go through the withdrawal period without the negative effects.
Depending on how severe your addiction is, you may only need the partial agonist found in the medication buprenorphine. Also known as Subutex ®, buprenorphine binds to your opioid receptors just as opioids and methadone do, but being a partial agonist, it doesn’t fully stimulate them.
While methadone and buprenorphine attach themselves to your body’s opioid receptors, naltrexone tackles the problem from a different angle. Naltrexone is considered an opioid antagonist, not an agonist, which means it blocks the receptors entirely. If you were to relapse and take the drug you’re addicted to while you’re on naltrexone, you wouldn’t feel the euphoric effects of your addictive drug.
It’s a common myth that using MAT drugs to overcome opioid abuse is paramount to trading one addiction for another, but that’s not true. MAT drugs tamp down cravings, relieve pain, and stabilize the brain, so you can do the work it takes to get and stay clean.
During your MAT treatment, we support your journey with behavioral therapies, such psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapies, to equip you for life after opioids.
If you or a loved one is addicted to opioids, including prescription drugs — such as hydrocodone, morphine, tramadol, or codeine — or illegal substances, such as fentanyl or heroin, MAT may be able to help you overcome your addiction and get your life back.
To learn more about medication-assisted treatment and to find out if it can help you or a loved one recover from an opioid addiction, book an appointment over the phone with Alpha Care Medical today.