When making the decision to end the addiction to opioids like heroin, oxycontin, Vicodin, and other prescription drugs, the individual must consider a variety of options and select the option best suited for him or her. Currently, the two main treatment options are:
Maintenance of the addiction through methadone or other prescription drugs such as buprenorphine
Abstinence treatment which entails quitting opioids cold turkey
Contrary to wishful thinking and what most people who have not read the scientific research believe, abstinence treatment, or “detox,” is often ineffective. While this is not news to experts and most who suffer from opioid addiction, a recent PBS interview with expert Dr. Bohdan Nosyk — an associate professor of health economics in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia – reported that abstinence treatment too often results in overdose and death.
Despite there being numerous treatment options available to help treat opioid dependence, many of these treatment options are not being recommended in the United States as often as they should be.
One of the biggest barriers is the federal government’s over-regulation of maintenance drugs such as methadone. Currently, methadone is only available in specialized drug treatment centers like CAP Medical Clinics. A person cannot obtain methadone through their general physician nor can they get it from a pharmacy. Rather than helping a greater number of patients, regulators do this for public safety so that methadone is not diverted
The problem with regulations is that opioid dependence is extremely widespread in the United States. After auto accidents, opioid overdose is the second leading cause of death in America. A staggering 2.3 million suffered from opioid addiction in 2009 – Large enough to be considered an epidemic. With numbers this high, one would think regulations would be lifted in order to help such a large number of people recover. Not so, according to Dr. Nosyk.
“Maintenance treatment with methadone is the dominant form of treatment for opioid dependence throughout most of the developed world. However, detox is still a popular option, particularly in the U.S,” explained Dr. Nosyk.
“With that said, we’ve known for decades that detox is ineffective in getting and keeping people off of opioids. This is true even in youths who don’t inject and had relatively little experience with opioids before entering treatment. What we’ve learned in recent years is that addicts are at the highest risk of death in the first two weeks of treatment, and in the two weeks following discontinuation of treatment. That means a three-week detox regimen exposes addicts to an extremely high risk of death for four out of five consecutive weeks. So, aside from being ineffective, it’s extremely dangerous.”
As opposed to detox through abstinence, which lasts between three and twelve weeks, methadone maintenance lasts for an indefinite period. Research shows that 90 percent of individuals who are in detox from opioids eventually do relapse, usually 12-18 months after withdrawal. By prescribing methadone to these patients, they are much more likely to successfully refrain from using opioids like heroin and pain pills such as Vicodin and oxycontin.
Research has shown that with methadone maintenance treatment patients not only have a higher success rate than regular detox, it also shows that overall health, life expectancy, and quality of life are vastly improved. Correctly following a methadone maintenance treatment program can completely eliminate withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings.
While the United States as a whole still has a long way to go in the understanding of the treatment of opioid dependency, CAP Medical Clinics have the staff, successful stats, and years of experience necessary to treat individuals struggling with addiction. By providing patients with access to vital treatment methods like methadone and buprenorphine therapy, we give countless patients a new hope of a life free of opioid addiction.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction to opioids, contact a CAP clinic near you.