Opiate Addiction Treatment
Opium is a naturally occurring substance that is extracted from the poppy plant, Papaver somniferum. Narcotics like morphine are derived from opium, which has powerful mind-altering and pain-numbing effects. Within the United States, opium is considered a Schedule II controlled substance as it does have some medicinal use. However, it also has a very high risk for abuse, diversion, and addiction, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports, which is why some individuals turn to opiate addiction treatment programs.1
Opiate addiction treatment is typically administered at specialized facilities that offer programs carefully designed for this type of addiction. Such programs are tailored to the specific needs of each patient, but often include safe and controlled medical detoxification, behavioral therapies, group therapy, relapse prevention programs, and various complementary treatment methods.2
Opium was first recorded as being cultivated in Southwest Asia in lower Mesopotamia in 3400 BC when the Sumerians referred to it as the “joy plant,” the DEA Museum publishes. Opium growth, cultivation, and use spread quickly along the Silk Road, making its way through the Mediterranean into Asia and then all the way to China. The Opium Wars of the 1800s and subsequent Chinese immigration brought opium to the US where opium dens (places where people could buy, sell, and smoke opium) sprung up. Opium poppy plants thrive in warm and dry climates. Today, much of the opium grown in the world comes from the Middle East, although it is also grown in Latin America as well.3
There are hundreds of opium derivatives that fall into the category of opioid drugs, which are common drugs of abuse and also highly addictive in nature. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that around the world 26.4-36 million people abuse opioid drugs today.4 One of the most commonly abused opioid drugs is heroin, an illegal and highly addictive drug synthesized from morphine, which is extracted directly from opium resin.
Opium is mostly marketed as a fine powder that is brownish in color, although it can also be sold as a liquid or a solid. It may be taken in pill form, injected, or smoked when abused. Many times, individuals may use an opium pipe to smoke the drug. It may also be mixed with other drugs, like marijuana in a combination termed Buddha.
What Are the Effects of Opium Use?
As a powerful central nervous system depressant, opium lowers anxiety, dulls pain sensations, and slows respiration, blood pressure, and heart rate, while producing a euphoric and relaxing “high” that is similar to the effects of heroin.
When individuals are under the influence of opium, they may appear to be “on the nod,” cycling between being conscious and unconscious. Movements may be sluggish, and motor control is impaired. Dry mouth, skin flushing, and constipation are additional side effects of opium use.
Opium also disrupts normal brain functioning, making it difficult to think clearly and make sound decisions. A person may then take bigger risks than normal when using opium and act in ways that are out of character.
People may think that because opium is a natural substance, coming from a plant, it is not as dangerous as other drugs. This is not the case, however, as opium carries a high risk for physical and psychological dependence, overdose, and addiction. These dangers increase with long-term regular use, which is why seeking adequate treatment for opiate addiction is highly recommended among users.4
Opioid Overdose and Risks of Abuse
Overdose deaths from opioid drugs have reached epidemic levels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 91 people die from an opioid overdose daily in the US. Opium, and other opioid drugs, can overwhelm the system, causing a person to struggle to breathe or stop breathing altogether.5
As mentioned, body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate are all lowered with the presence of opium in the bloodstream as well. During an overdose, skin will likely be cold and clammy to the touch, and fingernails and lips may appear bluish in color. Mental functions will be impaired, and a person may lose consciousness and be difficult to awaken.5
The CDC warns that over 33,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose in 2015. Opioid overdose is often reversible with the rapid administration of an opioid antagonist such as naloxone (Narcan). The antagonist binds to opioid receptors in the brain and essentially “kicks off” the opium in order to reverse its effects. During an opium overdose, the brain can be deprived of oxygen, which can result in brain damage that may not be entirely recoverable, however. The sooner the antidote is administered, the better the odds that the damage can be overturned.6
Opium & Other Drugs
When opium is mixed with other drugs, the side effects may be amplified. As a result, it may be more difficult to reverse an overdose when polydrug use is present, sometimes requiring multiple doses of the antagonist to do so.6
Negative Side Effects & Health Risks
In addition to the risk for overdose, opium abuse can have various negative side effects. Opium disrupts the way the muscles in the bowels work, which can cause constipation. It can also dry out the mucus membranes in the nose as well as cause dry mouth.
The way a person takes opium can result in specific risk factors as well. For example:6
- Smoking opium can lead to lung and respiratory issues and infections.
- Ingesting it may cause stomach ulcers.
- Injecting opium can lead to skin infections and collapsed veins, and raise the odds for contracting an infectious disease like HIV/AIDS or hepatitis when unsanitary needles are shared.
NIDA warns that heroin use (and therefore also opium abuse) can cause kidney, liver, and lung complications when used long-term. It can also result in infections around the lining of the heart and its valves, and also potential skin abscesses. Opium also causes physical and psychological dependence when taken regularly.7
Therefore, it’s important for users to learn about different opiate addiction treatment options. They should consider finding a program that suits their unique needs to prevent long-term health consequences and regain control over their lives.
Physical Dependence and Opium Withdrawal
Opium interferes with the way the brain works normally by binding to opioid receptors and causing a flood of dopamine. Dopamine is one of the brain’s chemical messengers that serves to send signals throughout the central nervous system. These signals tell a person when to feel happy, help to control movement, and are involved with memory, learning, and sleep functions.
When levels of dopamine are artificially enhanced via opium interaction, the brain can stop producing it and moving it around as it normally would. Then, when opium processes out of the body after use, levels can drop. Low levels of dopamine can cause:
- Memory and concentration issues.
- Difficulties sleeping.
As the brain becomes physically dependent on the presence of opium to keep moving its neurotransmitters around, significant withdrawal symptoms can occur when opium isn’t active in the bloodstream. Opioid withdrawal can be intense, and the National Library of Medicine (NLM) publishes that it generally begins within about 12 hours after the last dose of an opioid drug.8
In addition to the above symptoms, opium withdrawal symptoms can include:8
- Increased tearing.
- Runny nose.
- Muscle aches.
- Stomach pain.
- Nausea and vomiting.
Withdrawal symptoms typically peak within 2-3 days and then begin to taper off. Overall, the majority of withdrawal symptoms usually last about a week while insomnia, depression, and drug cravings may continue for a bit longer.
Stopping opium use cold turkey is not recommended when a person is physically dependent on it, as the flu-like physical and emotional symptoms can be difficult to endure. Addiction is often a side effect of chronic opium use, as regular use can quickly lead to compulsive use and a loss of control over the ability to regulate how much of the drug is taken at a time and how often.8
The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) reports that over 2.5 million people battled opioid addiction in the United States in 2015. Addiction represents an inability to stop taking the drug despite significant substance-related problems. It is considered a brain disease that can be managed with professional treatment for addiction to opiates.9
How Opioid Addiction Treatment Works
Due to the potential severity of opium withdrawal, treatment for opioid addiction generally begins with detox. The most comprehensive form of detox is medical detox, which is usually provided in a specialized facility where an individual remains on site for several days while opium and other opioids process out of the body.
Opioids may be slowly tapered off over a safe period of time, lowering the dosage in a controlled fashion to avoid the sudden negative reaction of stopping it all at once. Vital signs are monitored around the clock, and medications can be used to manage withdrawal symptoms during medical detox.
Replacement opioid agonist drugs like buprenorphine or methadone are often helpful in the treatment of opioid addiction as they are long-acting agonists that can be taken less often to keep cravings and withdrawal symptoms to a minimum. These, too, can be tapered off slowly over time.
Opium addiction is often treated with behavioral therapies in either an inpatient or outpatient facility for treating addiction. The type of treatment model preferred will depend on a person’s specific needs and will vary from person to person. A detailed assessment is generally performed by a highly trained professional prior to admission into a program in order to ensure the right fit.
Both outpatient and residential addiction treatment models include therapy, support groups, and relapse prevention programs. Group and individual therapy sessions can help clients to modify potentially self-destructive behavior patterns and improve self-reliance and self-esteem. Triggers that may induce cravings or raise stress levels are explored, and new coping mechanisms are learned. Families and individuals may attend therapy as well, which can help to enhance communication and improve the workings of the family unit overall. Any potential co-occurring disorders should also be managed and treated through integrated methods during opium addiction treatment.
Support groups are a great way of connecting peers with similar circumstances in order to provide encouragement and help to prevent relapse. Clients generally begin attending 12-Step or peer support meetings during treatment and continue attending them once they successfully complete a rehab program.
Complementary treatment methods may also be included in an opium addiction treatment program. These may include the following options:
- Mindfulness meditation
- Art therapy
- Massage therapy
- Chiropractic care
- Fitness programs and
- Nutrition management
Each program should be specifically tailored to the person receiving care to improve recovery and overall health and happiness on a long-term basis.2
Frequently Asked Questions
- Treatments for opioid addiction include:2
- Behavioral therapies and counseling.
- Medication-assisted therapy (MAT).
- Hospital-based and residential treatment.
Behavioral therapies and programs support individuals with common mental conditions and opiate addiction. Behavioral counseling aims to alter behaviors, attitudes, feelings, and thoughts and how patients see and understand different circumstances surrounding their addiction.10
When it comes to using medication for opioid addiction treatment, buprenorphine (Suboxone®, Subutex®), methadone, and extended release naltrexone (Vivitrol®) have proven to be efficient. According to the World Health Organization, buprenorphine and methadone are considered “essential medicines” for treating opioid addiction.11
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) offers a “whole-patient” approach when treating opioid addiction. It combines the use of medications approved by The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with counseling and behavioral therapies.12
Research shows that a combination of medication and counseling and therapy can effectively treat opiate addiction and that MAT can help maintain recovery. MAT is also used for opioid overdose prevention.12
- Since 2008, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) mandates health insurers and group health plans to offer the same quality of benefits for mental and/or substance abuse treatment and services as they do for medical/surgical care.13
- If taken differently than prescribed, opioids can lead to death by slowing, and ultimately halting a person’s breathing. However, with fast response, brain damage and death can be avoided. However, it can be tricky to identify an opioid overdose. Therefore, it is important to learn what some common signs of an opioid overdose are. It is also important to call 911 or find medical care for the user. Signs of an overdose may include the following:14
- Constricted “pinpoint pupils”
- Falling asleep or lack of awareness
- Weak, shallow respiration
- Choking or sounds of gurgling
- Limp body
- Body that is pale, blue, or cold
- When getting a new prescription, every patient should consider asking a few questions about it to avoid any unnecessary complications. This is particularly important if they are prescribed an opioid such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine by a doctor, dentist or other health care provider. The examples of questions to ask a medical professional include the following:15
- Why do I need this drug? Is it right for me?
- How long am I supposed to be taking this medicine?
- How can I decrease the chance of this drug having possible side effects?
- What if I have a history of addiction?
- What of the other drugs that I am taking?
- Where is my opioid medication meant to be stored?
- What am I supposed to do with unused opioid medicine?
- Should I have a prescription for Naloxone?
- It is important to research thoroughly when seeking for opiate addiction treatment programs. The appropriate program should incorporate different components of treatment, including medication treatment, behavioral health therapy and counseling, and medication-assisted therapy. When choosing a treatment center, make sure that the facility:16
- Is accredited and certified.
- Has a multidisciplinary care team.
- Uses evidence-based practices.
- Offers rehab programs of different length.
- Offers family support.
- Is covered by your insurance.
1. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2020). Drug Fact Sheet: Opium.
2. Medline Plus. (2020). Opioid Misuse and Addiction Treatment.
3. Drug Enforcement Administration Museum. Cannabis, Coca, & Poppy: Nature’s Addictive Plants.
4. National Institute On Drug Abuse. (2016). What Science tells us About Opioid Abuse and Addiction.
5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Understanding the Epidemic.
6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Opioid Overdose.
7. National Institute On Drug Abuse. (2019). Heroin DrugFacts.
8. Medline Plus. (2021). Opiate And Opioid Withdrawal.
9. American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2016). Opioid Addiction: 2016 Facts and Figures.
10. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). Behavioral Health Treatments and Services.
11. National Institute On Drug Abuse. (2016). Effective Treatments for Opioid Addiction.
12. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2021). Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT).
13. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2020). Does Insurance Cover Treatment for Opioid Addiction?
14. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Overdose Prevention.
15. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2019). What to Ask Your Doctor Before Taking Opioids.
16.Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. (2020). Choosing an Addiction Treatment Center.