How is Heroin Addiction Treated?

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The Heroin Epidemic

It’s no secret that heroin addiction has reached epidemic proportions in the United States over the last couple of decades. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found heroin overdose deaths increased by almost 50% since 2010. (1) There were 14,996 OD deaths from heroin in 2018 alone. That’s not including OD deaths attributed to fentanyl, which have skyrocketed to over 30,000 since 2014 alone. The positive side to these grim statistics may be that more people are going to treatment for heroin addiction than ever before. Demand for effective heroin addiction treatment has also driven innovation in care.

The Front Line Assault

The initial approach to anyone entering treatment for heroin addiction is medical stabilization. Anyone who has endured opiate withdrawal knows the terrible physical and mental discomfort it entails. Job number one is getting a patient stable and as comfortable as possible. This is ideally accomplished in an inpatient detox setting. Opiate detox protocols have become increasingly targeted and effective in recent years. Someone who detoxed years ago may well have an obsolete idea of what the process is like in the present day. A new class of medications is being deployed in an evidence-based model that delivers results. Buprenorphine (Subutex®) is part of most detox protocols, but only a part. Long-acting medications like IV Vivitrol may be used. Clonidine is a blood pressure medication that has been found to reduce adrenaline. By subduing the body’s “fight or flight” response, a patient can be made calm and more comfortable. Lofexidine is another non-narcotic medication that has proven effective at relieving heroin withdrawal symptoms. Certain antidepressants including Fluoxetine (Prozac) and Venlafaxine (Effexor) can also produce positive results. In some cases, anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) medications may be used. (2)

Supporting Early Recovery

After the initial week or so of heroin detox, most patients are ready to phase out of the medical detoxification portion of treatment. Research has shown dramatically better long-term outcomes for patients who remain engaged in treatment beyond the detox phase. (3) The options here vary from a longer inpatient stay to Partial Hospitalization (PHP, Intensive Outpatient (IOP), or a combination of these. An old adage in the treatment field says that there is no such thing as too much help for a problem, there is only ‘not enough’ and the research supports this idea. Heroin addiction is about more than chemical dependence. It is a complex ailment that involves the mind as much, or more than, the body. In order to have a fighting chance at recovery, a heroin addict must learn entirely new behaviors. These must become ingrained as habits they can sustain for a lifetime. Modern medicine has made total recovery more accessible than ever before. But there is no ‘easier, softer way’ that doesn’t involve dedicating oneself to a lifetime of recovery.

Holistic Recovery for Heroin Addiction

The term holistic is often misunderstood. This may be especially true as it relates to recovery. Simply put, holistic means treating the entire person, rather than just the symptoms. The detox phase of treatment is about relieving symptoms and allowing the body to rest. Little else can happen until a person is well enough to engage in therapy and activity. Effective heroin addiction treatment is a transformative experience. The detox phase is only the beginning. Assessments and accurate diagnosis of any co-occurring disorders usually follow. Then the real work begins. Individual and group therapy. Reading. Working on yourself becomes your primary purpose. Overcoming heroin addiction for a lifetime is a process. Luckily, many have followed the path before and they know the way.

The results any person gets from addiction treatment are proportional to the degree of dedication they apply. Change isn’t easy, but you don’t have to go it alone. Call us at Recovery By The Sea to discuss your options for care. A new way of living is just a phone call away.

(1) https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4014033/
(3) https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment

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