Is medication sufficient to treat opioid addiction?

Is medication sufficient to treat opioid addiction?

The United States continues to be in the grip of an opioid epidemic. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that in 2015 more than 52,000 people died of drug overdoses, the highest ever in a year. Around 63 percent of these deaths involved opioid use. There has been a threefold increase in drug overdose deaths between 1999 and 2014, which can be attributed to frequent use of painkillers and easy availability of inexpensive versions of heroin and synthetic opioids.

Providers of drug treatment and rehabilitation services advocate therapy and abstinent behavior as the treatment for addiction. However, a sharp increase in overdose mortality rates and a widespread opioid epidemic are forcing policymakers to rely on medication to control the perilous situation.

In July 2016, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) was passed by the U.S. Congress. Key features included: increasing the availability of the opioid antidote naloxone for the police and first-responders, prescription training for doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants, making provision for more medical professionals to administer medications, creating more prescription drug monitoring programs to identify those at risk of developing an addiction, and creating grant programs for overdose-related training for first-responders.

However, a major drawback of the Act is that it does not provide any funding. Former president Barack Obama recurrently asked the Congress to allocate federal budget funds of $1.1 billion to combat the problem; majority of which was proposed to be allocated to states to help them expand medication-assisted treatment.

Medication can be critical in cases of extreme addiction

Methadone, one of the most popular antidotes, offsets the impact of specific drugs and assists in controlling withdrawal symptoms. Suboxone, a prescription medicine containing active ingredients buprenorphine and naloxone, has mild side effects and alleviates withdrawal symptoms. It has the potential to halve the risk of overdose deaths and to reduce the chances of relapse by more than half.

Even naltrexone is a prescription medication advised in case of opioid-related effects. According to Marlies Perez, chief of the substance use disorder compliance division for California’s Department of Health Care Services, using medication to treat opioid addiction has proved to be the “gold standard for helping people recover.”

In Switzerland and England, using drugs and medication to treat addiction is on the rise, although the medical fraternity has not yet adopted this measure in a big way. In both these countries, if methadone and suboxone have not been able to treat addiction, patients are given small amounts of heroin to help them overcome their addiction gradually. Those in favor of such a treatment reason that these measures should be looked upon as necessary medical treatment, and that a distinction should be made between dependence and addiction. It has established that using methadone reduces the craving for heroin and assists people in leading normal lives, including resuming school and working.

Medication use remains highly restricted as a form of treatment

Using medication to treat opioid addiction has attracted its share of criticism. Representatives of leading national drug rehabilitation programs argue that medications such as methadone and suboxone are addictive themselves. Their contention is that in such a treatment, people are substituting one drug for another and chances of abusing medications are high. Cases of methadone and suboxone abuse have also been found.

To counter such concerns, policies have been formed which lay down rules for physicians for prescribing suboxone. There is also a limit on the number of patients per doctor who can be administered at a given time. Earlier, physicians could treat only 100 patients annually with suboxone. But in 2016, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) increased this limit to 275 patients per doctor while also allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe the drug. There are approximately 32,000 doctors in the U.S. who have been certified by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to prescribe suboxone to people dealing with opioid addiction.

Seeking holistic treatment is a must

More access to medicine-based treatments will result in a big impact in treating cases of substance abuse, including opioid addiction. However, it will be effective when it is used simultaneously with other treatment methods, such as counseling and support groups.

If you know someone who is suffering from drug addiction and needs immediate help, contact the California Drug Addiction Helpline. Our representatives can guide you to the finest addiction treatment centers in California. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-980-1946 or chat online with our experts to know more about the state-of-the-art drug rehab centers in California.