More than a half million people in the U.S. use heroin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Heroin use can lead to health problems such as hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, as well as overdose from excessive use. If you or someone you know has a heroin dependency, you may wonder, "Can heroin addiction be stopped by medication?"
Heroin comes from morphine and is part of the opioid family of drugs including OxyContin and Vicodin. It can be in the form of a white or brown colored powder or a black sticky tar and can be smoked, snorted, or injected.
Heroin affects the entire brain and central nervous system. Once heroin enters the brain, it is converted to morphine, binds to the opioid receptors and activates them to release dopamine which results in a sense of pleasure. The user may feel drowsy, have dry mouth, skin that is warm and flushed, and experience impaired judgment. Additionally, heroin users may experience nausea and vomiting, twitching, reduced respiratory and heart rates, nightmares, insomnia, constipation, seizures and hallucinations. Excessive and long term use of heroin can create physical dependency and can also cause respiratory and pulmonary problems, brain damage, liver failure, heart damage, and even death. Related medical complications of use can include constipation, pneumonia, tuberculosis, depression, anti-social personality disorder, sexual dysfunction, and irregular menstrual cycles. If one injects heroin, this can result in scarred or collapsed veins, bacterial infections of the blood vessels and heart valves and abscesses. Snorting can cause damage to the nasal passages. Heroin is "cut" with additives and many can't be dissolved or absorbed by the body. These additives may clog the blood vessels of the heart, lungs, liver or kidneys, cause infections or death of cells in the vital organs and arthritis has been reported as part of an immune reaction to the additives.
Withdrawal symptoms from heroin are often experienced as "flu-like" symptoms but more severe. Restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting and cold flashes with goose bumps are experienced. Most symptoms peak at 24-48 hours from last use and ending in about a week's time. Some people do experience signs of withdrawal for up to several months after last use although this is less common.
There are several options for detox from heroin use including outpatient or inpatient medical detox. Outpatient medical detox involves going to a clinic or doctor's office to receive medication to take at home. Methadone clinics, where people receive methadone or Suboxone, are commonly available. Alternatively, people can visit a doctor's office to receive suboxone if the physician is licensed to prescribe it. Alternatively, people can check themselves into a hospital for inpatient detox.
Methadone and Suboxone have been used in heroin detox for more than 20 years and both are very effective at masking the withdrawal symptoms from heroin detox. Individuals withdrawing from heroin generally experience insomnia, uncontrollable movements of the arms and legs, diarrhea, cravings, muscle and bone pain and agitation.
The problem with Methadone and Suboxone as drug replacement therapy is that a large percentage of the people who began taking Methadone or Suboxone to detox from heroin never stop taking them. When taken for long periods of time, both methadone and Suboxone have the same danger for dependency and withdrawal as heroin. In fact, withdrawal from methadone and Suboxone may be more difficult and prolonged due to the nature of how the drugs work than the withdrawal from heroin itself.
Intravenous (IV) therapy detox is the safest and most effective method for detoxing from heroin. It is supervised by a board certified and licensed physician. This method enables the doctor to make any necessary changes to the medication protocol as the individual's withdrawal symptoms change. By monitoring the patient and recalibrating the IV therapy to the blood chemistry of the patient, the patient is as comfortable as possible and safely supported through a complete detox.
Once detox has been completed, many people seek help to keep clean. Unfortunately, Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and other 12 Step programs have a very low success rate of 5%. A highly effective alternative is the Cognitive Behavioral Education (CBE) available at the non-profit St. Jude Retreats. Our program can help you overcome heroin and start a new drug-free lifestyle based on your lifestyle choices and preferences. Call one of our Guest Service Representatives today at 888.424.2626.