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Overcoming Opioid Use Disorder

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5 Things to Know About Treating Opioid Dependence

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Linda Wasmer Smith on June 24, 2021
  • closeup of man giving himself an injection of biologic drug into his stomach
    Powerful Painkillers
    Millions of Americans struggle with misuse of prescription painkillers, or opioids. Examples include hydrocodone (Lorcet, Lortab, Vicodin), morphine (Avinza, Kadian, MS-Contin, MSIR), and oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan). Even taking these powerful painkillers as prescribed can sometimes lead to addiction. Here's what you need to know.
  • counselor-speaking-with-patient-and-taking notes
    Fact 1: Dependence is treatable.
    People who take an opioid may develop a physical dependence on the drug, which means they have withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking it. Some also develop addiction, which involves intense cravings for the drug and loss of control over using it. The good news? Dependence on prescription painkillers is treatable.
  • group discussion
    Fact 2: If you need help, you're far from alone.
    More than 5 million Americans currently abuse prescription painkillers, and about 1.9 million are addicted to them, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  • Man with stomach pain
    Fact 3: Medications can help treat opioid problems.
    Opioid dependence can cause withdrawal symptoms—such as pain, diarrhea, and vomiting—when people first stop taking the drug. Other types of medication can help relieve those symptoms and ease cravings. With time, it also helps restore a normal frame of mind, giving people a chance to reclaim their lives.
  • Man holding pills
    Fact 4: Three types of medication are available.
    There are more options for treating opioid dependence now than ever before. Different medications work in different ways.

    Methadone. Methadone is an agonist, a chemical that tricks the brain into thinking that it's getting the problem drug. It prevents withdrawal and reduces cravings, but without producing the same high. Methadone is available only from approved clinics, where it is dispensed daily.

    Buprenorphine. Buprenorphine (Sublocade, Subutex) is a partial agonist. That means it has properties of both an agonist and an antagonist—a chemical that blocks the effects of opioids in the brain. Buprenorphine can be prescribed by doctors who have a special certification.

    Naltrexone. Naltrexone (Depade, Revia, Vivitrol) acts as an antagonist. It keeps people from getting high if they use the problem drug again. In the past, one problem with all these medications was that people would often just quit taking them. A new, long-acting injection form of naltrexone, called Vivitrol, may help overcome that problem.
  • Group of young male friends laughing
    Fact 5: Counseling also plays a key role.
    Don't go it alone! Research suggests that the best treatment for opioid dependence is a combination of medication and counseling. Individual, group, or family counseling can help people learn to deal with cravings and avoid situations that might lead to a relapse. It can also teach healthy ways of coping without abusing opioids.
5 Things to Know About Treating Opioid Dependence

About The Author

  1. Hydromorphone. American Cancer Society.
  2. Hydrocodone. Drug Enforcement Administration.
  3. Oxycodone. Drug Enforcement Administration.
  4. Important Treatment Advances for Addiction to Heroin and Other Opiates. National Institute on Drug Abuse. October 2010.
  5. Fentanyl. National Institute on Drug Abuse. National Institutes of Health.
  6. Drug Abuse and Addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse. August 2010.
  7. Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse, April 2012.
  8. Prescription Drug Abuse. National Institute on Drug Abuse, December 2011.
  9. Prescription Drugs: Abuse and Addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse. October 2011.
  10. Propoxyphene-Containing Products. Food and Drug Administration.
  11. Drug Fact Sheet: Morphine. Drug Enforcement Administration.
  12. Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction: Facts for Families and Friends. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 2011.
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Last Review Date: 2021 Jun 24
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.