The opioid epidemic sweeping the United States has been percolating for over a decade, taking the lives of tens of thousands of people each year. The media has devoted countless articles chronicling the heartbreaking tales of addiction—stemming largely from prescription painkillers—and the families left behind. Now, a new study published in the Journal of American Addiction Medicine has found that the stark increase in opioid-related deaths is driving down life expectancy in the US; in 2015, the death rate from drug overdoses reduced life expectancy by more than three months. As Rachel Becker of The Verge writes, “Three months may not seem like much, but that’s roughly the same reduction attributable to rising death rates from injuries, Alzheimer’s, suicide, chronic liver disease, and sepsis combined.” Of particular concern are the rising death rates of people ages 25 to 44, an increase primarily attributable to overdose deaths.
These findings speak both to the extraordinary addiction potential opioids hold and the lack of options so many people have for recovery. Even those who desperately want to stop using often relapse quickly after discontinuation due to the distress of withdrawal; rather than using to get high, they continue to use just to avoid suffering through detox. However, painful withdrawal is not inevitable; with judicious use of Suboxone in the detox process, you can minimize or even eliminate withdrawal symptoms, allowing you to discontinue the drug of abuse without psychological or physical trauma.
What is Suboxone?
Suboxone is a combination medication comprised of buprenorphine (a partial opioid agonist) and naloxone (an opioid antagonist) taken in tablet or sublingual film form. It works by acting on the same receptors as drugs of abuse, basically convincing the brain that its need for a fix has been fulfilled. Despite being an opioid, people who are opioid-dependent don’t experience a euphoric high when Suboxone is taken as directed. Instead, it blocks other opioids from working while also preventing the emergence of withdrawal symptoms. “If addicts take it properly, they have no cravings, they have no withdrawal, and they feel ‘normal,’” says Dr. Adam Bisaga, professor of psychiatry at the Columbia University Medical Center. “And that’s why the drug is so effective.”
So where does the naloxone come in? While opioid-dependent people don’t get high on Suboxone taken orally, it is possible to get high if the drug is injected. Naloxone is added to prevent potential abuse by blocking the effects of the buprenorphine upon injection.
Why Suboxone is Preferable to Methadone for Detox
Until Suboxone was released in 2002, the only narcotic drug available to treat opioid dependence in the United States was methadone, which can only be dispensed in a limited number of specialized addiction treatment clinics. While methadone has undoubtedly played a critical role in many people’s recovery journeys, it is a controversial and imperfect drug, both in terms of its pharmacological qualities and its distribution system. While methadone can be used as a detox drug, it carries a risk of dependence, abuse, and overdose.
Suboxone, on the other hand, can be prescribed by any physician licensed to do so and does not require in-clinic administration, allowing for increased privacy and accessibility. Its formulation limits abuse and overdose risk while also being less likely to produce euphoric effects than opioids of abuse or methadone, minimizing occurrences of recreational use by opioid-dependent people. Research has found that Suboxone is as effective as methadone in reducing withdrawal symptoms and reduces them more rapidly. Additionally, data shows that those using Suboxone for detox are also more likely to complete the treatment compared to those who detox using methadone. Overall, Suboxone is considered a safer method of opioid detox while also being more easily integrated into addiction treatment programs and avoiding the stigma associated with methadone treatment.
Suboxone Fortifies Addiction Treatment
The potential of painful withdrawal keeps so many struggling with opioid addiction locked in a pattern of self-destruction, even when recovery is desperately desired. If you are ready to break free from opioid addiction, connecting with an addiction treatment program that offers Suboxone as part of their medically supervised detox program can be the first step toward healing. There, detox specialists will work with you to determine if Suboxone is the best option to alleviate withdrawal and craft a personalized detox plan to keep you safe and comfortable as you start your recovery journey.
But Suboxone doesn’t just allow you to avoid painful withdrawal and cravings, it also fortifies the addiction treatment process by giving you the opportunity to engage in treatment unencumbered by distressing detox. While Suboxone cannot do the hard work of recovery for you, it creates a space in which you can stay in treatment and fully devote yourself to that work. A clinical trial conducted by the Yale School of Medicine found that patients who received Suboxone were “more likely to stay in treatment for at least 30 days.” In fact, 78% of those given Suboxone remained in treatment at 30 days compared to just 37% of those who did not. As Ariana Kamaliazad of the University of Washington Medical School explains, “The Suboxone stabilizes your brain chemistry so you can start to be receptive [to treatment].”
Of course, the treatment you engage in must be of the highest quality in order to optimize your chances of recovery. By selecting a program that offers a comprehensive curriculum of individual, group, and holistic therapies, you will be able to deeply examine the roots of your addiction and develop strategies to remove them. With the guidance of expert addiction specialists and compassionate peers, you can learn the skills you need to make meaningful emotional and behavioral changes and create a new, sober life. This is essential to creating lasting recovery; simply getting off opioids is not enough. You must fundamentally change your relationship with drugs, yourself, and the world around you in order to heal and prevent future relapse.
Alta Mira offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Bay Area programs and how we can help you or your loved one create a more stable, joyful life.
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