Opioid Detox Options
Detoxing from opioids presents a number of health risks, unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, and psychological challenges. This page explores what opioids are, how opioid use disorder develops, and recommendations for opioid detox options.
What are opiates?
Opiates and opioids are words used interchangeably to describe narcotic drugs. What’s the difference? Opioid is an umbrella term used to refer to a class of substances that are either derived naturally from the compounds of the poppy plant or the synthetic compound used in pharmaceutical opioids. The seeds are then extracted from the flowers and dried to make opium.
Opioids can be used to induce sleep, alleviate pain, or used recreationally to create feelings of euphoria. This class of drug is most powerful and carries the deadliest consequences. Found as both prescription medications for pain and illicit street drugs, opioids have the ability to cause changes in the body that can lead to physical dependence in a very short period of time.
Synthetically manufactured opioid drugs include codeine, oxycodone, methadone, fentanyl, morphine, hydrocodone (Norco/Vicodin/Lortab) and hydromorphone (Dilaudid IR). Illicit opiates used most commonly include heroin, but also prescription opioids like oxycodone and fentanyl.
Street names for opioids include oxy, m30s, percs, demmies, black tar heroin, China, big whites, Captain Cody, act, Little C, Dro, purple drank, smack, footballs, morpho, roxy, ercs, greenies, rims, God’s drug, footballs, chill pills, trammies.
When taken recreationally, taken in a larger quantity than prescribed, or taken without a doctor’s prescription, is classified as misuse of opioids. Opioid misuse can lead to addiction (opioid use disorder), overdose, and potentially death.
What is opioid use disorder?
Opioid use disorder is classified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a problematic pattern of opioid use leading to problems of distress, with two of the following criteria occurring within a 12-month period:
- Taking larger amounts or taking drugs over a longer period than intended.
- Persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control opioid use.
- Spending a great deal of time obtaining or using the opioid or recovering from its effects.
- Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use opioids
- Problems fulfilling obligations at work, school or home.
- Continued opioid use despite having recurring social or interpersonal problems.
- Giving up or reducing activities because of opioid use.
- Using opioids in physically hazardous situations.
- Continued opioid use despite ongoing physical or psychological problem likely to have been caused or worsened by opioids.
- Tolerance (i.e., need for increased amounts or diminished effect with continued use of the same amount)
- Experiencing withdrawal (opioid withdrawal syndrome) or taking opioids (or a closely related substance) to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 10.3 million Americans misuse opioids and an estimated 2 million meet the criteria for opioid use disorder.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:
- 21-29 percent of patients are prescribed opioids for pain
- Between 8 and 12 percent of those patients develop opioid use disorder
- 4-6 percent of people who misuse opioids move on to more readily available narcotic, heroin
- 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused opioids
The effects of opioid use disorder are wide-ranging and potentially fatal. Their effects include the risk of overdose, slowed breathing, heart rate and blood pressure, disorientation, coma, and gastrointestinal problems. In 2018, 128 people died every day after overdosing on opioids.
Opioids are highly addictive and very difficult to withdraw from without professional medical detox.
Signs of opioid withdrawal:
Opioid withdrawal symptoms can begin within 6 to 12 hours of the last dose of medication/narcotic. Symptoms include:
- Risk of relapse
- Muscle aches and bone pain
- Inability to sleep
- Abdominal cramping
- High blood pressure
- Excessive sweating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid heartbeat
- Teary eyes
- Blurry vision
- Goosebumps on the skin
These symptoms can be incredibly difficult to manage without proper medical intervention at an inpatient medical detox center.
Opioid Detox Options
There are effective opioid detox options available for opioid addiction. Unfortunately, only 1 in 4 people receive specialist treatment. Detoxing alone isn’t recommended because of the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and risk of complications.
According to SAMHSA, detox is a critical first step in helping someone safely and carefully detoxify from opioids.
“Detoxification is a set of interventions aimed at managing acute intoxication and withdrawal. Supervised detoxification may prevent potentially life-threatening complications that might appear if the patient were left untreated. At the same time, detoxification is a form of palliative care (reducing the intensity of a disorder) for those who want to become abstinent or who must observe mandatory abstinence as a result of hospitalization or legal involvement. Finally, for some patients it represents a point of first contact with the treatment system and the first step to recovery.”
There are various types of opioid detox facilities and each differ in the services offered. Broadly speaking, you should expect they can help:
- Manage withdrawal symptoms
- Provide medication to ease the detox process
- Deal with any complications
- Medically supervise detox, monitoring heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and breathing
- Conduct a behavioral assessment
- Provide recovery support and aftercare
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