Opioid Addiction Treatment Gone Wrong – Medication vs Abstinence Treatment

Opioid Addiction Treatment Gone Wrong – Medication vs Abstinence Treatment

Opioid Addiction Treatment Gone Wrong

The opioid addiction treatment process can be approached in two different ways – either through medication treatment, i.e., controlled the use of the maintenance drug or by abstinence treatment, i.e., sudden stop in the use of opioids to recover.


Opioid Addiction Treatment Gone Wrong - Medication vs Abstinence Treatment

Opioid Addiction Treatment Gone Wrong


In a report on a recent article in the New York Times, a 35-year-old stay-at-home father died due to switching treatments and not finding the correct procedure to treat opioid addiction.

The patient used an anti-craving medication buprenorphine for recovery but relapsed and decided to try another treatment program. The new detox center insisted that the use of buprenorphine was as dangerous as heroin even though it is approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). He wasn’t also allowed to start therapy till he remained abstinent from buprenorphine. He switched to a different detox center hoping things will be better but there too anti-craving medication was banned. Within a week of starting the detox program, he died due to a heroin overdose.

Medication Treatment vs. Abstinence Treatment

Controlled use of methadone and buprenorphine has proved to reduce the death rate of opioid addiction. Even though abstinence treatment has not shown reduced mortality in opioid addiction, many detox centers believe abstinence as the only true recovery. Abstinence treatment is less effective than medication treatment at preventing relapses.

While most of the American opioid epidemic or opioid overdoses are out of control due to lack of use of the proven addiction medications, many American detox programs do rely on methadone or buprenorphine as a crutch for short-term use before the patient can move on to be completely clean.

Medication treatment for opioid addiction can be done outside a detox center under the guided supervision of a doctor. Most people have the wrong notion that using medication to function as a form addiction.

The bright side of medications:

Methadone and buprenorphine are opioids themselves so using them may look like you are substituting your addiction from heroin to another. But when you use the same dose of the drug, at the same time as a medication every day, there is no high or intoxication. You are not addicted but recovering with the help of maintenance doses. On the bright side, you can even lead a healthy and productive life.

Now a patient is transformed from being addicted to the physical dependence of medication. It’s no different from needing antidepressants or insulin. A drug’s use outweighs the risks, so continued use is healthy and not addictive.

But many detox facilities, as well as authorities, are still skeptical about medication treatment due to continued misuse of opioids by patients. Patients still relapse and get back to recovery again under medical treatment and but it is not as bad as abstinence treatment. When patients relapse after abstinence treatment, they are often nowhere to be seen. With medication, they often remain in treatment.

Medication helps to reduce risk and stabilize people in recovery. Often people need to take the medication treatment method so that they can reach the abstinence treatment phase.

Medication reduces overdoses. Whenever people take buprenorphine instead of heroin, the risks are lowered, especially when heroin is mixed with deadly strong fentanyl.


Now that we know being in medication treatment reduces overdose risk we need innovative measures to change things.

Many users need medications like methadone and buprenorphine so that they can get off street drugs. The government should not fund programs that do not use F.D.A. approved anti-craving medications. Maintenance drugs need to be almost as accessible as street drugs.

Often people will need to take the first route of medication treatment to survive long enough to reach the abstinence treatment. While abstinence can work for some, we need more options.

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