Treating Opiate Addiction with Replacement Therapy


By Jill Gonzalez

Replacement therapies are medications that are prescribed to treat addictions to opiates such as heroin, morphine and OxyContin. There are two primary replacement therapy medications: methadone, which has been in use for decades, and buprenorphine, a relatively new medication that has proven to be effective in treating people with opiate addiction.

While an addiction to opiates can happen to anybody taking them, teenagers in the United States are the fastest growing group to experiment with opiates and are increasingly at risk for developing an opiate addiction. About 50 percent of recreational opiate users will become addicted to these powerful drugs. Once addicted to opiates, most people need professional opiate treatment programs to help them overcome their addiction and be able to return to leading a normal life.

Understanding Opiate Addiction

Opiate use brings about significant chemical changes in the brain. These changes are not only long-lasting, they cause people to feel extreme negative emotions and intense cravings when (or if) they stop using opiates. In some instances, people may begin experiencing these feelings within just a few hours of their last use of opiates.

The reason that opiate use is so difficult to overcome is because the chemical state of the brain is so significantly altered even with just a few uses. Once addicted, people require replacement medications in order to be able to safely kick the habit.

It is also important to understand that opiate addiction is a chronic physical condition just as heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure are. There is generally not as much sympathy given toward opiate addicts, however, because people view these addictions as preventable. Regardless of how those conditions developed, the fact is that opiate addiction is a very serious matter that requires long-term opiate treatment to overcome.

The Facts about Replacement Therapy

Some critics argue that replacement medications are wrong because they are supplying patients with one drug in place of another. What these people may not realize is that recovering from opiate abuse is not a simple matter. Addicts cannot just decide to quit using these drugs and walk away from them one day. The opiate addict is someone who has taken the drugs for long enough that they have developed an actual physical dependence on them. The chemical changes that occur in the brain do not reverse themselves each time a person stops using opiates.

Replacement therapy medications such as methadone and buprenorphine help patients to reach a stabilized physical condition, which then allows them to be able to go through counseling and rehabilitation programs successfully. The reality is that without these replacement therapy medications, most people would never have a chance of being able to overcome their opiate addiction.

In addition, replacement therapy allows patients to be monitored regularly by their doctor. Once on a replacement therapy program, patients are no longer controlled by the wild emotional swings or intense cravings that opiates produced in them. The patient receives regulated doses that control the chemical reactions in the brain, and they are free from the all-consuming urge to find more drugs at any cost. This not only helps patients through recovery, it also helps to reduce the crime rates because it keeps people from resorting to illegal activities in an effort to acquire more drugs.

Replacement therapy alone, however, is also not a completely sufficient treatment. Patients also need individual counseling in order to complete a full recovery. In addition, many professionals recommend that patients also participate in group therapy sessions. Group therapy can be extremely beneficial for recovering addicts because it allows them to gain a new perspective on their own situation by listening to the stories of other people who have the same addiction.

It is necessary to understand that replacement therapy is not a short-term or quick fix for opiate addiction. Opiate addicts will need to remain on replacement therapy for a number of years in order to successfully combat their addictions. In addition, these medications are only designed to treat people with opiate addictions. They are not intended, nor will they work, for other drug addictions. So, if a person is addicted to opiates as well as some other type of drug, a replacement therapy program as part of opiate treatment will only help them with the opiate addiction.

Before choosing a replacement therapy program and while in an opiate treatment program, patients need to have an honest discussion with their doctor in order to determine which medication is the best choice for them. In some cases, patients with certain mental illnesses may be better off taking methadone rather than buprenorphine because buprenorphine can cause some psychiatric symptoms to worsen.

Click here to locate a facility near you »