What Is the Best Drug to Use for Getting Off Heroin?

There are several different medications a person can use during their heroin addiction treatment program. But which is the best for this substance abuse syndrome?

Medications Available for Heroin Addiction Treatment

Heroin addiction often requires a pharmacological treatment regimen of some sort because the recovery process is extremely difficult and uncomfortable. Medications can help to minimize these issues. In addition, treatment for heroin addiction without medication can sometimes be dangerous because the potential for relapse is so high.

The three medications approved by the FDA to treat opioid addiction include:

Getting Off Heroin

Medication maintenance reduces withdrawal symptoms so you can focus on recovery.

  • Methadone: an opioid agonist that minimizes the cravings and withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin abuse, blocks the opioid receptors in the brain, and when dosed correctly, does not cause euphoria
    • According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Methadone works by changing how the brain and nervous system respond to pain.” Because it is an opioid drug itself, it can minimize the issues an individual usually encounters when stopping their opioid abuse.
    • Methadone is usually taken once a day.
    • Methadone can be abused, however, which is why it can only be dispensed by authorized clinics.
  • Buprenorphine: a partial opioid agonist that minimizes cravings and withdrawal symptoms, blocks the opioid receptors in the brain, and when dosed correctly, does not cause euphoria
    • Buprenorphine is very similar to methadone, but it is safer from abuse than the former drug. Buprenorphine has a ceiling effect that keeps it from causing the usual effects of an opioid overdose if taken in large doses. In addition, it is usually prescribed with naloxone when taken as a maintenance medication, and naloxone can precipitate withdrawal immediately in anyone who attempts to abuse the drug.
    • Buprenorphine can be taken once every few days because it has a longer action time than methadone.
    • Patients can get buprenorphine from certain doctors who are legally authorized to dispense the drug rather than only from specific clinics.
  • Naloxone: an opioid antagonist that blocks the opioid receptors in the brain, does not cause sedating effects, and does not cause addiction or dependence if abused
    • Naloxone is a beneficial pharmacological option for individuals who are highly motivated to quit their opioid abuse. Unfortunately, though, the drug is not well tolerated among most populations.
    • According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a new formulation of the drug called Vivitrol was recently approved for the treatment of opioid addicts. While it is a longer acting formula, it is unknown whether this new medication will solve the compliance issue associated with the drug.

Which Is the Best Medication for Getting Off Heroin?

In general, methadone is usually the best medication for getting off heroin. True, a patient who begins methadone maintenance will then be on methadone, but this is not like trading one addiction for another. Methadone maintenance patients do not experience sedation when taking the drug and can live their daily lives in all ways, including going to work, seeing their families, driving, etc. Methadone, when taken in correct doses, is safe and effective for treating heroin addiction.

It is normally more effective for heroin addiction treatment than the other medications for a number of reasons. Buprenorphine has been found to be less effective than optimal doses of methadone, which is why the former drug isn’t the best choice for individuals with severe dependencies. And because heroin addicts are usually suffering from intense physical dependencies on the drug, methadone is often a better choice. Methadone is also usually a better choice in this case than naltrexone because many addicts simply stop taking the latter drug due to its intense side effects.

Still, it is always important to consider your specific situation when choosing a treatment method for your safe and effective recovery, as well as to consult a doctor about the best options for your personal situation. Remember, each patient needs their own individualized treatment program.

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