Heroin Detox Drugs: What to Expect During Withdrawal

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Addiction continues to claim thousands of lives every year as the US grapples with the worst drug overdose crisis in its history.

In 2014, the year when it became official that overdose deaths claimed more lives than traffic accidents, more than 10,500 people died from heroin, according to data cited by the US Department of Health & Human Services.

But that’s only a glimpse at how much heroin addiction is affecting Americans. According to a Reuters report published in 2017, heroin use in the US has increased five-fold in the past 10 years.

Data also show dependence on the drug has more than tripled and that the largest jumps in use are among white people and men from low-income households who have little education, the report said. The nation’s heroin epidemic is also hitting more young adults than other age groups.

Link Between Prescription Drugs, Heroin Abuse

Many turn to heroin, an illegal drug processed from morphine that comes from poppy plants, after they have developed addictions to opioid medications such as Percocet, Vicodin, and oxycodone. That’s because prescription opioid pain medications have effects that are similar to heroin.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Nearly 80 percent of Americans using heroin (including those in treatment) reported misusing prescription opioids first.”

Recent data support this trend, as Reuters says in its report, “Whites aged 18 to 44 accounted for the biggest rise in heroin addiction, which has been fueled in part by the misuse of opioid prescription drugs.”

Why Kicking Heroin Habit Requires Professional Help

Once hooked, quitting heroin can be hard. While it is possible to end dependence after long-term use, this effort usually requires enlisting the help of medical professionals who can help monitor the entire process, which includes a withdrawal period that is emotionally and physically uncomfortable or painful. These professionals, which include a team of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers, ensure you are safe as you recover from heroin use.

Uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, which vary according to how long the person has been using and how much they use, are likely to occur, once a person stops or gradually stops using. Among them are:

Mild heroin withdrawal symptoms:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Chills
  • Muscle and bone aches
  • Nausea
  • Sweats
  • Runny nose
  • Tearing
  • Yawning

Chronic heroin symptoms:

  • Agitation
  • Fatigue
  • Concentration problems
  • Diarrhea
  • Restlessness
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting

Severe heroin symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Difficulty feeling pleasure
  • Impaired respiration
  • Insomnia
  • Hypertension
  • Muscle spasms
  • Rapid heart rate

Should You Quit Heroin “Cold Turkey”?

Quitting abruptly on your own, a practice known as going cold turkey is not advised. It is not viewed as safe, and the risks involved include organ failure and relapse, which can end in overdose. Withdrawing without medical help can be uncomfortable and painful, but typically not life-threatening. However, abrupt interruptions that trigger a withdrawal can worsen other underlying health conditions that users may not be aware of, which can result in unexpected complications. It is safer to detox with a professional at your side.

Treating Heroin Addiction with Other Opiates

Clients who undergo detoxification for heroin withdrawal at an accredited drug rehab center may be given longer-acting opioids to help ease and manage withdrawal symptoms that set in after the drug is no longer being used as much as it was before. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin detox drugs can help improve the odds of achieving abstinence.

“There are now a variety of medications that can be tailored to a person’s recovery needs while taking into account co-occurring health conditions. Medication combined with behavioral therapy is particularly effective, offering hope to individuals who suffer from addiction and for those around them,” it writes.

Below is an overview of drugs that are used during the heroin detox withdrawal process.

  • Buprenorphine maintenance: Buprenorphine, an opioid drug that is similar to heroin, allows heroin users to safely wean off it and prevent or reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms. This drug also helps reduce cravings for heroin. Buprenorphine comes in a tablet that is placed under the tongue to dissolve between three to seven minutes once a day. When it is absorbed, it directly enters the bloodstream.
  • Methadone maintenance: This long-acting opioid pain reliever is used to alleviate withdrawal symptoms for opiate users as they taper off heroin during detoxification for drug addiction. With methadone, pain relievers are blocked from interacting with the brain, which helps reduce the cravings that accompany withdrawal symptoms. Methadone should be used with care as it is habit-forming, even at regular dose.
  • Naloxone: This prescription medication, an opioid antagonist, is administered to reverse opioid overdose. It binds to opioid receptors in the brain and can reverse and block the effects of other opioids. “It can very quickly restore normal respiration to a person whose breathing has slowed or stopped as a result of overdosing with heroin or prescription opioid pain medications,” writes NIDA. Naloxone comes in three formulations and all have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. One form is an injectable, which requires professional training. Another form is an auto-injectable called Evzio, which is a pre-filled auto-injection device that makes it easy to inject it into the outer thigh quickly in case of emergency. The third form comes in a prepackaged nasal spray that is sprayed into a nostril while the person lie on their back.
  • Naltrexone: Naltrexone is in a class of drugs called opiate antagonists that helps prevent relapses into alcohol or drug abuse. The pill, given once a day, blocks opioid molecules from attaching to opioid receptors, which means users who take naltrexone won’t feel the euphoric and sedative effects of heroin. Some clients receive this medication once a month in an injectable form called Vivitrol. The dosage is based on the person’s medical condition and response to the treatment received. The medication must be used regularly to get the maximum benefit from it.

WebMd warns that sudden opiate withdrawal effects can occur within minutes after taking naltrexone. If this happens, tell your doctor immediately.

Those effects include: abdominal cramps, nausea/vomiting, runny nose, diarrhea, joint/bone/muscle aches, and mental/mood changes (such as anxiety, confusion, and visual hallucinations).

  • Suboxone: Suboxone, also known as Subutex, is a medication that is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone, an opioid analgesic and antagonist. Similar to methadone, suboxone is a depressant used to limit cravings and withdrawal symptoms in people addicted to heroin. The drug is a strip that dissolves underneath the tongue. Suboxone is habit-forming and should be used with care.

Medications may also be used to treat nausea and depression clients may experience during heroin detoxification.

What’s Next After You Take Heroin Detox Drugs?

After heroin detox is completed, clients should be medically stable and in position to consider a recovery treatment program at a licensed facility. Completing a program is widely viewed as giving users the best shot to stick with their decision to stop using and make the necessary changes to address the causes of their addiction. There are a variety of treatment options available, including inpatient and outpatient programs.

In an inpatient program, which is also called residential, clients who are recovering from moderate-to-severe heroin addiction receive around-the-clock care from medical professionals. They also are away from everyday distractions so they can focus on their addiction and learn new life skills and strategies in a supportive environment. This is important as they will need these tools to help them navigate the outside world once their recovery program ends.

These clients may continue their treatment in an outpatient recovery program that requires regularly scheduled mental health counseling sessions and physician checkups but with more flexibility than inpatient treatment programs.

Using Heroin Detox Drugs with Behavioral Therapies

In addition to heroin detox drugs, behavioral therapies are used to help people kick their heroin addiction. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps users modify their drug-use expectations and behaviors. This kind of therapy also helps users identify and manage their triggers and stress. Contingency management, another kind of behavioral therapy, provides incentives, such as vouchers or small cash rewards, to help keep them focused on their recovery goals. “These behavioral treatment approaches are especially effective when used along with medicines,” NIDA says.

Do You or Someone You Know Abuse Heroin?

The pull of heroin addiction is strong, and anyone of any age or background can find it hard to stop using once they are in the drug’s clutches. It’s all right to ask for help in leaving heroin addiction behind. At Pathway to Hope, we know how to help you or your loved one.

Call our 24-hour helpline at (844) 557-8575, and one of our call agents will assist you immediately with what you need. They can answer questions you have about heroin addiction treatment, including how to make it affordable or how the detox process works. Begin your recovery today and take your life back.

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