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Medication for Opioid Addiction, Withdrawal, and Detox Programs

Opioid misuse, abuse, and addiction have become a growing concern in the United States. Prescription opioids are used to treat pain, although both prescribed and illicit opioids work similarly and have a high potential for abuse and addiction.1 Statistics show that in 2020:2

  • 5 million Americans aged 12 or older had abused some type of opioid.
  • 3 million Americans aged 12 or older had abused prescription pain medications, such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, tramadol, morphine, buprenorphine, and methadone.
  • 902,000 Americans aged 12 or older had used heroin.
  • There were 2.7 million Americans aged 12 or older who had an opioid use disorder (OUD).

People who abuse prescription opioids are more likely to develop an issue with addiction.3 Between 4-6% of people who abuse prescription opioids eventually turn to heroin, and among people who use heroin, approximately 80% had originally abused prescription painkillers.3 This page will help you understand more about what opioid use disorder (OUD) is, what to expect from withdrawal, how OUD medications can help with the withdrawal and recovery process, other supports used during treatment, and whether these medications are covered by health insurance.


What is Opioid Use Disorder?

An OUD is a disease involving a cluster of symptoms affecting thoughts, behaviors, and the body, and is characterized by an inability to stop using even after experiencing significant negative consequences.4,5 When opioids are used regularly, they can cause physical dependence.1,5 This means that the brain becomes accustomed to the presence of the drug over time and relies on the drug to function normally.5 When someone who is dependent on opioids stops taking them, they will experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.1 Although dependence is one of the symptoms of an OUD, it doesn’t automatically mean that someone who is dependent on opioids has an OUD.5,6

Symptoms of an OUD include:4,5

  • Continued opioid use even after they have caused or worsened relationships with family or friends.
  • Cutting back on or quitting hobbies or other activities because of opioid use.
  • Developing a tolerance or needing to use larger amounts of opioids or taking them more often to get the same effect.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when opioid use is stopped.
  • Having difficulty completing responsibilities at home, school, or work due to opioids use.
  • Inability to stop using opioids even after they have caused or worsened a physical or mental health issue.
  • Overwhelming cravings for opioids.
  • Spending a lot of time getting, using, or getting over the effects of opioids.
  • Taking more opioids or taking them for longer than originally planned.
  • Using opioids in situations that could be dangerous, such as when driving.
  • Wanting or trying to cut down or stop using, but not being able to.

Checking Your Insurance Benefits

If you are looking for opioid addiction treatment, it can feel overwhelming. As you consider your options, knowing exactly what your insurance plan covers can give you peace of mind while you or your loved one is in rehab. You can do the work of getting and staying sober without worrying about unexpected costs or financial struggles. For more information on what your insurance plan covers, call AAC at , click here, or fill out the form below.


What is Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)?

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is when medications are used with behavioral therapy techniques to facilitate the treatment process.1,7 Three opioid addiction medications are FDA-approved, and they can all work to reduce the risk of relapse during treatment.1,7 The three medications that are used during MAT include methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone.1 Studies show that MAT can reduce opioid use and overdose, increase the likelihood of remaining in treatment, improve functioning in various life areas, and decrease the risk of negative consequences associated with opioid use.7

Each of the medications works differently.1 A medical provider will work with you to determine which of these medications will be the best fit for you and then prescribe the medication, which you may be required to take under supervision depending on the type of program you attend.7,8 The length of time you spend on the medication can vary, and the provider will decide this with you.8 For people with severe addictions or a long history of relapses, it can be possible to stay on MAT indefinitely.8


Types of Medication to Reduce Opioid Craving and Addiction

Medications used during treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD) can make the recovery process easier to focus on, increase the likelihood of staying in treatment, and reduce the risk of relapse.1,9 It is important to work closely with your provider to decide which medication will be best for you.7,8 Your provider will monitor your progress regularly and will meet with you to determine how long you should take the medication for.7,9 The medications used to treat OUD include:1,5,6,8-10

  • Methadone, a long-acting opioid agonist that works to reduce cravings. It binds strongly to opioid receptors in the brain, preventing any opioids that are taken from having an effect, without causing a high when taken as prescribed. However, this medication is only available through tightly regulated treatment programs. It can be started during the withdrawal process and continued into recovery
  • Buprenorphine, a long-acting partial opioid agonist that works similarly to methadone to reduce cravings. It also binds to opioid receptors in the brain but does not cause a high and is less likely to cause negative side effects associated with methadone dependence and addiction). It is more widely available through a range of providers, and it has been formulated to prevent misuse when combined with naloxone (Suboxone). Buprenorphine can also be started during the withdrawal process and continued into recovery.
  • Naltrexone, a long-acting opioid antagonist that blocks opioids from having the desired effect by preventing them from binding to opioid receptors. Since any opioids that are taken won’t cause euphoria or sedation, you will be less likely to continue trying to use them. Naltrexone can be taken orally or as a long-acting injection, but it cannot be started until after detox is completed, as it will cause opioid withdrawal if taken when opioids are still in your system.

Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms and Timeline

Opioid withdrawal symptoms can range in severity from mild to severe, depending on several factors.4 This can include the type of opioid you have been taking, the dosage, and how long you have been using it.4 Symptoms of opioid withdrawal may include:1,4,5,9,13

  • Aching bones and muscles, especially in the back and legs.
  • Alternating periods of chills and goosebumps with fever and sweating.
  • Anxiety.
  • Depressed mood.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Feeling pain more acutely.
  • Feeling restless or irritable.
  • Inability to sleep.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Runny nose and eyes.
  • Strong cravings for opioids.
  • Uncontrollable leg movements.
  • Yawning.

The opioid withdrawal timeline also depends on the type of opioid that you use.4,9 For short-acting opioids, such as heroin, hydrocodone, or oxycodone, withdrawal symptoms typically start within 6-12 hours after the last use, increasing in intensity until they peak at 1-3 days and slowly improve until they resolve between days 4-10.4,14 For long-acting opioids, such as methadone or extended-release prescription opioids such as morphine, it can take between 2-4 days for withdrawal symptoms to begin, increasing in intensity and then gradually subsiding over the next 2-3 weeks.4,14


Does Medication Help with Opioid Detox Programs?

Since opioid withdrawal can be difficult and extremely uncomfortable, medications can be very helpful during the detox process. These medications can help to reduce the withdrawal symptoms and increase your comfort and safety.15 However, since these are prescription medications, it is important to obtain them through a medical professional who can monitor your progress as you go through detoxification.15

Since opioid withdrawal is often accompanied by strong cravings for opioids, attending an opioid rehab program can be a better and safer option for many people. This allows you to receive support and monitoring from staff members and peers as you go through withdrawal but also ensures a seamless transition into additional treatment. While detox is an important first step into recovery, it is not considered formal treatment, since it only focuses on clearing your body of opioids and hopefully reducing any withdrawal side effects. Detoxification doesn’t address the underlying addiction.15 In rehab, you will learn the skills needed to maintain the sobriety that you began in detox.15


Do Rehab Centers Use Medication for Opioid Use Disorder Treatment?

While many rehab centers typically do use medication in treatments for OUD, this can vary widely. Not all facilities offer MAT, and treatment should be tailored to the unique needs of each individual.15 Before prescribing any kind of medication, the facility will assess your substance use history and medical and psychiatric health history. After this, they will work with you to determine which medication, if any, will be best to meet your needs.


Additional Support Provided at Opioid Rehab Centers

Although medication can be very helpful, combining it with additional treatments and supports can make it more effective.7,10 These can include a wide range of options, such as:5,9,15,16

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which works to change patterns of thoughts and behaviors, helps you identify and cope with stressors and triggers, and teaches you to practice relapse prevention skills.
  • Family therapy, where family members attend counseling sessions to learn how to support the person in recovery, improve communication skills, resolve family issues surrounding the addiction in a supportive and effective manner, and change unhealthy patterns of interaction between family members.
  • Group counseling, where you can give and receive support while working on a variety of issues. These groups may utilize various types of therapeutic techniques.
  • Individual counseling, where you can discuss personal issues with a therapist in a more private setting. This also allows you to work on specific areas in which opioid use has affected your life, such as physical or mental health, work, family, relationships, financial, or legal problems.
  • 12-step programs, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA), which builds a sense of hope as members work towards reducing substance-using behaviors and replacing them with healthy sober behaviors. A supportive network of peers is a major component of this type of group.

Does Health Insurance Cover Medication for Opioid Addiction?

While the specific coverage offered by your health insurance plan can vary, most insurance plans do offer some type of coverage for medication to treat OUD.17 This is largely due to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which expanded access to insurance coverage, as well as ensuring that addiction and behavioral treatment services are covered at comparable levels to medical care.17 However, what is covered can vary depending on the individual plan, so it is important to check with your insurance provider to ensure that your treatment medication is covered.17


How to Find Medication-Assisted Treatment Programs for Opioid Addiction Near Me

For more information about medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction, you may want to reach out to your doctor. Or you can contact one of our admissions navigators at for the information and support you are looking for as you look for opioid addiction treatment. There are various treatment programs for individuals struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, so don’t give up if the first program you check out doesn’t meet your individual needs or accept your insurance. There are rehabs near me that can provide the treatment you need. Check out the directory to find a list of facilities and programs.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) has various rehab facilities around the country that provide drug and alcohol addiction treatment. The following AAC facilities may incorporate MAT as part of your individualized treatment program.


Sources

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, June). Misuse of prescription drugs research report.
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2021). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health(HHS Publication No. PEP21-07-01-003, NSDUH Series H-56). Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). Opioid overdose crisis.
  4. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). Prescription opioids DrugFacts.
  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Opioids.
  7. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2021). Medication-assisted treatment (MAT).
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). Medications to treat opioid use disorder research report.
  9. Schuckit, M.A. (2016). Treatment of opioid-use disorders. N Engl J Med, 375(4), 357-368.
  10. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2021). MAT medications, counseling, and related conditions.
  11. Renfro, M.L., Loera, L.J., Tirado, C.F., & Hill, L.G. (2020). Lofexidine for acute opioid withdrawal: A clinical case series. Mental health clinician, 10(5), 259-263.
  12. Volkow, N. (2018). NIDA-supported science leads to first FDA-approved medication for opioid withdrawal.
  13. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). Heroin DrugFacts.
  14. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2010). Protracted withdrawal. Substance Abuse Treatment Advisory, 9(1).
  15. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (Third edition).
  16. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Treatment approaches for drug addiction DrugFacts.
  17. Abraham, A.J., Andrews, C.M., Grogan, C.M., D’Aunno, T., Humphreys, K.N., … & Friedmann, P.D. (2017). The Affordable Care Act transformation of substance use disorder treatment. American journal of public health, 107(1), 31-32.

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