America’s opioid problem has reached epidemic proportions. Contrary to information provided by pharmaceutical companies, research has shown that even short-term use of these prescribed medications can result in addiction and eventual overdose. Because the stakes of opioid use disorder are so high, it is vital that individuals who have developed a dependence have access to quality care. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the use of FDA-approved medications in combination with behavioral therapies effectively to treat opioid use disorder.
Opioids are a class of drugs that include illicit substances (heroin), synthetic opioids (fentanyl, carfentanil), and pain relievers (oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and codeine). You may recognize some of the brand names associated with opioid medications, including OxyContin, Vicodin, and Dilaudid.
Many people begin using the prescribed forms of these drugs under the supervision of a medical professional. Others may take unused pills from friends or family members, either for pain relief or recreational use. Unfortunately, while the choice to begin taking these drugs is voluntary, continued use can make it difficult to stop. This results in addiction: a problematic pattern of opioid use that compromises an individual’s health and quality of life.
How Did We Get Here?
Beginning in the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies informed doctors (falsely) that opioid pain relievers were nonaddictive, resulting in an increase in opioid prescriptions. This led to widespread misuse and addiction nationwide, with some parts of the country being harder hit than others. Three years ago, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency and released their plan for combating the crisis.
The effects of the opioid epidemic cannot be overstated. Throughout the year of 2018, the total number of people misusing these medications was 10.3 million. Each day, over 130 Americans die of an opioid-related drug overdose. In total, it is estimated that over 2 million people had an opioid use disorder in 2018.
Signs of Opioid Use Disorder
Diagnostic criteria for opioid use disorder are similar to that of other addictions. Specifically, individuals spend more time obtaining, using, and recovering from their substances of choice. They experience cravings and withdrawals when they aren’t using and will regularly need to take more of a drug to get the same effects (tolerance). Their substance use will become more important than other parts of their lives, and will take priority over work, school, and relationships.
There are also signs that are unique to opioid use disorder. They include:
- Going “on the nod” (drifting in and out of consciousness)
- Pinpoint pupils
- Respiratory depression (reduced breathing rate)
- Fatigue or sleepiness
- Confusion, delirium, and lightheadedness
- Complaints of blurred vision, dry mouth, and itchy skin
- Appearing fidgety, can’t sit still
- Nausea and vomiting
- Poor personal appearance (worsened hygiene, clothes don’t fit)
If you observe any of these signs in your loved one, it is very possible that they have developed a dependence on opioids. We encourage you to seek treatment as soon as possible.
Treating Opioid Use Disorder with MAT
Fortunately, there is a clear path to breaking free of addiction to opioids. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the prescription of FDA-approved medications that alleviate the symptoms of withdrawal and help to quell cravings.
Qualified centers will customize care to each patient; this is known as fully individualized addiction treatment. A few different combinations of medicines may be utilized for the treatment of opioid use disorder. These include…
Buprenorphine and Naloxone – Available as a daily dissolving tablet, cheek film, monthly injection, or implant under the skin, this combination is an office-based treatment method that serves as an opioid agonist/antagonist that blocks other narcotics while reducing withdrawal risk.
Naltrexone – This office-based non-addictive opioid antagonist blocks the effects of other narcotics; it is available as a daily pill or monthly injection. In addition to preventing these effects, it decreases the desire to take opioids.
Naloxone – This drug is used to prevent or rapidly reverse an opioid overdose. It is an opioid antagonist, meaning that it binds to opioid receptors, which allows it to reverse or block the effects of other opioids. Naloxone is a generic form of Narcan, and is available in an autoinjectable or packaged nasal spray form. Small dosages of it work to prevent dependence.
Outpatient medication-assisted treatment is the gold standard for opioid use disorder. MAT is paired with comprehensive counseling services such as cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and address the core issues driving one’s substance use.
Opioid MAT in Southern California
At Calming Goat, we believe in an innovative, calm, no-nonsense approach to treating addiction. Our team of board-certified physicians is uniquely equipped to help you find recovery. Through a blend of medications and therapies, our clients experience complete healing from opioid use disorder. Call (424) 376-3444 or contact us online to schedule your appointment today.