7 Things to Know About Quitting Opioids
Opioids are used by millions of Americans. It seems that every day a news article is being shared on television or the Internet about opioid misuse, addiction, and unfortunately, overdose.
With new information emerging each year from research and public health bodies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you too, might be re-thinking your opioid use, and searching for ways you can quit.
1. Only 10% of People Seek Treatment
Although there are ways to treat opioid addiction, a mere 10% of people who need treatment are actually receiving it. Reasons for not accessing treatment vary widely from person to person, and the odds are, you have your own reasons and beliefs about treatment too.
2. You Are Not Alone
You may feel like you are battling addiction alone. But, opioid addiction affects millions across the country and across the world. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that in 2012 there were 33 million people using opioids and 16 million using opioids worldwide.
In 2014, the world reached the highest level of opium production since the 1930s. Why the dramatic increase? Public health researchers point to the high levels of production happening in Afghanistan—the world’s main growing country.
3. Quitting Could Save Your Life
If you think that you have an addiction to opioids, quitting could save your life. In fact, worldwide, opioids are at the top of the list when it comes to drugs that cause the most harm and drug-related deaths.
Worldwide, roughly 69,000 people die each year from an opioid overdose. Taking the steps to quit can prevent further harm to yourself, your relationships, and to those who love you.
4. Medications Can Help
You may be wondering what medications your doctor will prescribe you. Both methadone and buprenorphine (Suboxone, Subutex) are long-acting medications that are taken daily. These drugs can be used to assist in opioid withdrawal during what is called “opioid detoxification,” and as medication-assisted therapies (MAT) for long-term treatment.
Both methadone and buprenorphine have demonstrated success in helping treat substance use disorders. They are usually preferred over other medications for opioid withdrawal because they can be used and supervised in inpatient and outpatient settings.
Following detoxification, the drug naltrexone may be prescribed as another option. Naltrexone is a long-acting opioid antagonist that is used to prevent relapse. It produces no opioid effects and blocks the effects of opioids for 24-48 hours.
Some people argue that using medication is substituting “one drug for the other.” However, research shows that medication in combination with therapy is one of the most effective ways to treat addiction.
5. Relapse is Common
Your doctor may put you on opioid maintenance treatment to prevent your chances of relapse. What is relapse? Relapse is when you successfully stop using a drug for a period of time and then, for whatever reason, go back to using the drug again.
It is quite common for people to experience one or many episodes of relapse. Again, remember that if you relapse you are not alone—this happens to many people.
6. A Combination Approach is Recommended
There are many resources available to help you address both your addiction and the underlying reasons for using drugs in the first place. Treatment of co-occurring disorders such as major depressive disorder, anxiety, and other mental illnesses may also be part of your treatment.
Ideally, when you are offered medication as part of your treatment plan you will also be offered forms of psychosocial support. Whether it’s individual or group therapy, research shows that relapse is much less likely to happen if you address the underlying reasons for your opioid use with some form of therapy. Participating in therapy will likely increase your chances of remaining drug free.
Keep in mind that one attempt at treatment may not always be enough to quit opioids forever.
It is common for people to try treatment multiple times before finding a program that works for them. You may have to try treatment a number of times to find a program that works for you.
7. Don’t be Afraid to Talk About It
You can take control of your health today and take the difficult but necessary steps to quit using. When you are considering quitting opioids, it may be helpful to talk to someone who has gone through the process themselves. The best way to learn about quitting is to reach out to health professional who can walk you through the process.
It is always a good idea to equip yourself with as much information as possible. This way, you have resources to help make the best decision about your health.
World Health Organization. Dept. of Mental Health, Substance Abuse, World Health Organization, International Narcotics Control Board, United Nations Office on Drugs, & Crime. (2009). Guidelines for the psychosocially assisted pharmacological treatment of opioid dependence. World Health Organization.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). (n.d.). 2015 World Drug Report finds drug use stable, access to drug & HIV treatment still low.
Cunningham, J. A., Sobell, L. C., Sobell, M. B., Agrawal, S., & Toneatto, T. (1993). Barriers to treatment: Why alcohol and drug abusers delay or never seek treatment. Addictive behaviors, 18(3), 347-353.
World Health Organization (WHO). (2014). Information sheet on opioid overdose.
Darke S, Ross J, Mills KL, Williamson A, Havard A and Teesson M (2007). Patterns of sustained heroin abstinence amongst long-term, dependent heroin users: 36 months findings from the Australian Treatment Outcome Study (ATOS). Addictive Behaviors. 32(9):1897-1906. 40.
Maddux JF and Desmond DP (1992). Methadone maintenance and recovery from opioid dependence. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. 18(1):63-74. 41.
Flynn PM, Joe GW, Broome KM, Simpson DD and Brown BS (2003). Recovery from opioid addiction in DATOS. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 25(3):177-186. 42.
Hser YI (2007). Predicting long-term stable recovery from heroin addiction: findings from a 33-year follow-up study. Journal of Addictive Diseases, 26(1):51-60.