It’s actually not complicated to know what to do if you have an opioid addiction: get on maintenance medication. And most people get better.
Admitting to yourself you have a drug problem — and deciding to take action — are the big hurdles.
Knowing what to do if you have an opioid addiction is easier.
The best treatment, according to experts worldwide — at the World Health Organization, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse — is to take a maintenance drug, usually methadone or buprenorphine. It’s also a good idea to stay with a program that provides counselling and regular urine checks.
More good news: The great majority of people recover from this kind of addiction. In a study of more than 500 people who had been addicted to prescription opioids, half of the addictions ended within five years. The chance of recovery was 96 percent, with about 80 percent recovering in 10 years or fewer.
You or loved ones might balk at the idea of a maintenance drug, thinking that you’ll still be “an addict.” Remember that the maintenance drugs don’t make you high. You will be physiologically dependent on the drug. But you won’t be acting out in all the ways characteristic of an addiction. An addiction is “a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Addicts seek out the drug even though they’re going broke, unable to keep a job, and destroying their marriages. Maintenance drugs don’t have those harmful consequences.
Going cold-turkey isn’t the ideal approach. People typically relapse, and you are more likely to die from an overdose than if you take a maintenance drug. The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, for example, offered an abstinence program based on the 12-steps model of Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous for many years without any maintenance drugs. At Hazeldon, people once debated whether it was okay to drink coffee while weaning yourself from heroin. But in 2012, after seeing too many patients die after treatment, Hazelden announced that it was going to prescribe buprenorphine.
November 02, 2017
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA