Understanding the Fundamentals of Opiate Addiction Treatment

Understanding the Fundamentals of Opiate Addiction Treatment

Opiates are a group of drugs, which are derived from the opium, which comes from the poppy plant. They are medically used for treating pain. The term “opiates” should be differentiated from the more general term “opioid”. Technically, the ‘opiates’ label covers drugs that are naturally derived from the active narcotic part of the poppy plant while the “opioid” concept includes prescription drugs, which are modified versions of the opiates building blocks, synthetic and semi synthetic drugs.

Opiates in low doses can suppress pain and reduce anxiety whereas at sufficiently high doses, it causes euphoria. There are various ways of administering the drug, e.g. smoking, snorting or just plainly taken by mouth, even though addicts tend to choose intravenous injections to give the quickest and maximum pleasure. Intravenous injections can lead to various diseases or an overdose.

Addiction and Effects

According to statistics, about 9% of the total population is believed to abuse opiates be it medically prescribed e.g. Oxycontin or the illegal drugs e.g. Heroin. Any long term use of opiates causes physical dependence as they give the user a feeling of euphoria followed by a feeling of wellbeing which can be very addictive. For addicts who take opiates for a long time, the nerve receptors adapt and obtain resistance to the drug, causing the user to need higher doses for the same effects, which may trigger addiction. When the drug leaves the body of the user, physical withdrawal occurs as nerve receptors must adapt once more to its absence. This is not necessarily termed as addiction because many patients who use an opiate as pain relievers are physically dependent on the drug as they need it when it leaves the body.

Often, effects of opiate use are usually blurry as they mostly focus on the short term effects which include; vomiting and diarrhea, significant elation or euphoria, delayed reactions, and sedation. The rarely mentioned facts are the long term effects and symptoms which include:

  • Weak immune system.
  • Gastric problems (constipation, intestinal ileus, bowel perforation)
  • An excess of medical issues following intravenous injection (e.g. contraction of blood borne illnesses, localized abscesses among others )
  • Noticeable respiratory depression; cumulative hypoxic end-organ injury.


Typically, opiate treatment starts with questions related to the addiction to know its nature. These include;

  • When did you start using the drug?
  • When did you last administer the drug?
  • How regular do you use the drug?

These questions assist your doctor to know what kind of approach will be most suitable. The three methods mostly used include rehabilitation, detoxification, and out-patient therapy.

Detoxification is done on an inpatient basis and involves withdrawal from the drug slowly with use of stabilizing medication, while one is being supervised by a medical treatment team. Detoxification from strong opiates such as heroin may need a prescription of methadone or buprenorphine to make the transition less difficult for the patient.

Depending on some factors relating to the individuals’ level of opiate use, presence of home support, amounts of insurance resources and any other previous attempts at recovery, treatment via rehabilitation or outpatient therapy follows detoxification. These usually last anywhere between 30 and 90 days and mostly involves individual therapy and group therapy, which help to impart ways to cope and resist drug temptation.

Outpatient treatment follows when one needs more support. This gives former users a chance to be sober and rebuild their lives fully in a supportive environment.

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