If you live in the United States, you’ve almost certainly heard of the opioid crisis. It’s been addressed by presidential candidates, doctors, and celebrities. It was the cause of death of about 42,000 U.S. citizens in 2016. Its effects are present in every state and amongst every demographic.
The push for treatment and recovery options for opioid addicts is stronger than ever before because so many people are suffering.
Thankfully for those trying to get help for themselves or those they love, the U.S. FDA recently approved a new drug. This new drug is the first non-opioid medicinal drug to be approved for use in reducing opioid withdrawal symptoms. It’s called Lucemyra, or lofexidine. It could be the next step in helping opioid addicts to get clean more quickly and more comfortably.
Lucemyra doesn’t cure opioid use disorder. What it does is make the symptoms of opioid withdrawal much easier to bear for opioid addicts who have decided to get clean. As we’ll discuss later on, relapses are common. But when opioid withdrawal symptoms aren’t so intense, it’s more likely that a recovering addict will stay clean instead of turning back to opioids.
Maybe you have been hearing about the opioid crisis for years, but you don’t know what an opioid is or why people become addicted to opioids so easily. Maybe you’re wondering how to know if Lucemyra could help you or a loved one.
Why We Need a Drug to Address Opioid Addiction
Opioids – sometimes called opiates – are substances derived from the poppy plant or made synthetically to have the same effect on the body. There are both legal opioids and illegal opioids.
Legal opioids are often prescribed as painkillers. These include Percocet, OxyContin, Vicodin, codeine, morphine, Opana, Methadone, Lortab, hydromorphone, Demerol, dilaudid, and Amytal. You often receive these legal opioids for chronic pain due to an injury or surgery. Sometimes, legal opioids are prescribed as a treatment for addiction or dependence on stronger opioids.
Illegal opioids include drugs like heroin and fentanyl. You cannot legally obtain these drugs within the United States. These drugs are illegal because they are very dangerous and/or have no medicinal benefit. Often, the methods that users resort to in using illegal drugs are dangerous in and of themselves. For example, some illegal opioid users reuse needles or buy drugs from untrustworthy sources.
How are Opioids Taken?
Opioids can be taken in any of four main ways:
- Orally, as a whole pill or tablet
- Crushed, dissolved in water, and injected intravenously
- Crushed and snorted through the nose
- Crushed and smoked in a pipe
Smoking an opioid will make a user feel its effects fastest. When smoking a drug, the effects occur almost instantaneously.
The next fastest method of using a drug is injecting it into the bloodstream. Snorting a drug takes slightly longer. Orally ingesting a drug is the slowest method to affect the brain.
The faster a drug’s effects are felt, the faster it means the drug has made its way to the brain. The faster a drug makes its way to the brain, the more likely the user is to become addicted. That said, those who smoke opioids are most likely to become addicted to opioids. They are followed closely by those who inject opioids, then those who snort opioids. Taking opioids whole and orally tends to have the least chances of causing addiction to opioids.
How Do Opioids Work?
Opioids often cause feelings of euphoria, or simply relieve pain. This is why there are many prescription opioids. Opioids are often prescribed in cases of extreme chronic pain or after surgeries that causes intense discomfort.
The opioids trigger opioid receptors in the brain that block the body’s feelings of pain. They can also block the body’s feelings of normal emotions. The user can feel particularly joyful or peaceful for no reason other than the effect of an opioid.
For a visual representation of how opioids work in the brain and body, watch this video.
Because of how opioids affect the brain and body, it is easy for a user to quickly become addicted to opioids. Repeated use of opioids, especially use outside of the instructions of a doctor, can actually change the chemistry of the brain. The body forgets how to function normally without the substance.
What are the Signs of Opioid Addiction?
When a body is accustomed to opioids and cannot function without them, the user’s body is considered dependent on opioids. Once the user has also become psychologically reliant on the drugs, and cannot or will not voluntarily stop using them, they are considered addicted to opioids.
If you or a loved one is experiencing the following symptoms, you may be experiencing opioid addiction:
- Using more of a prescription opioid than the doctor has prescribed for each use
- Using a prescription opioid more often than the doctor has prescribed
- Continuing to use the opioid despite its damage to your physical health
- Continuing to use the opioid despite its damage to your psychological health
- Spending a lot of time using opioids or recovering from opioid use
- Choosing to use opioids instead of participating in other activities you used to enjoy
- Choosing to use opioids instead of spending time with friends or family
- Continuing to use opioids despite legal problems
- Realizing you need more of the drug to experience the same effect you did previously
- Having a strong or constant urge or desire to use opioids
- Feeling out of control of your use of opioids
As you can see, opioid addiction can impact a user socially, physically, and psychologically.
What are the Symptoms of Opioid Withdrawal?
When an addict or someone dependent on opioids decides to stop using the drugs, it is often difficult, dangerous, and uncomfortable. This is because the body has become accustomed to the presence and effects of opioids, and cannot function normally without it.
Some of the common symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:
- Craving or an intense desire for the opioid
- Breathing more rapidly than normal
- Incessant yawning, even when you don’t feel tired
- Runny Nose
- Stuffy Nose
- Excess salivation
- Goosebumps or chills
- Muscle Aches in all or part of your body
- Vomiting or nausea
- Abdominal cramping
- Sweating, even when you don’t feel warm
- Enlarged Pupils
- Loss of appetite
Watch this video to see what withdrawal can look like. Notice that the girl going through withdrawal continues to insist that she’s leaving to go do more drugs in order to stop the pain of the withdrawals. The girl in the video is more likely to be successful in her recovery because she seems to have a supportive family that will help her during treatment.
Many people find the symptoms of opioid withdrawal so difficult that they decide that it isn’t worth discontinuing their use of the drug. However, there are ways to reduce the effects of withdrawal. The use of Lucemyra is one of those ways.
Many people find that inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, or other drug-assisted withdrawal situations are easiest. If you think that you or someone you know would benefit from a professional detox program or rehab, it’s best to find help soon. The chances of a relapse to opioids are much higher when you try to quit using opioids on your own.
All About Lucemyra
Lucemyra is the brand name for a drug called lofexidine. It is manufactured by US WorldMeds LLC, in Kentucky.
Historically, lofexidine is used to treat hypertension (high blood pressure). As of May 16, 2018, though, the FDA approved its use in cases of opioid withdrawal. Lucemyra doesn’t treat opioid addiction. However, it makes the symptoms of withdrawal easier to bear. This makes the user more likely to get through withdrawal without turning back to the drug. It also decreases any medical risks associated with the opioid withdrawal symptoms.
In the United Kingdom, lofexidine has been approved for and used in the treatment of opioid withdrawal symptoms since 1992 – over 25 years. Only this year, however, was it approved for use in the United States.
There is currently only one form of Lucemyra on the market. These appear as round, film-coated tablets. The tablets are peach-colored and say “LFX” on one side and “18” on the other. They contain .18 mg of lofexidine each.
Lucemyra acts in the body specifically to reduce some of the most common symptoms of withdrawal. These include nausea, stomach cramps, muscle spasms, chills, rapid heart rate, body aches, yawning, muscle tension, runny eyes, and insomnia.
Lucemyra doesn’t eliminate the symptoms completely. Instead, the drug makes them more bearable. This way, opioid withdrawal becomes more bearable for those who find the symptoms too overwhelming to quit. For example, the young woman in this video continues to use fentanyl despite knowing the risks.
Lucemyra only reduces symptoms, so it’s best to take the medication under the guidance of healthcare professionals. One of the problems with this drug is that it only reduces physical symptoms of withdrawal. The psychological craving that opioid addicts experience is unaffected. This means it’s still very difficult to stop use altogether without other support.
Lucemyra only affects the physical symptoms of opioid withdrawal. It is important to pair its use with therapy or other psychological and social support. This ensures the former addict is held accountable to sobriety and doesn’t relapse. As we’ll discuss later, relapses can be dangerous.
For now, Lucemyra has only been approved for use in adults. In fact, the FDA is not requiring drug trials to take place with you children, because the need for such a drug within that demographic is very low. For young children, opioids are not often removed abruptly as they are with adults.
Your doctor may prescribe you Lucemyra to reduce your withdrawal symptoms. You will then be able to pick it up at a local pharmacy. You could also be prescribed Lucemyra or another form of lofexidine within an inpatient treatment program. In this case, you will be cared for by professionals as you go through withdrawal.
In any case, you should follow the exact instructions for using Lucemyra that are written on the doctor’s prescription. You should never take Lucemyra for more than two weeks, because studies have not been done to show if this could be harmful.
Taking Lucemyra for more than two weeks could cause serious problems with your blood pressure or heart rate, among other dangers.
You should also never stop taking Lucemyra all at once. Your doctor will tell you how to stop taking Lucemyra gradually. This ensures that you do not experience any physically harmful effects from stopping too suddenly.
Stopping the use of Lucemyra too quickly could also potentially cause serious problems with blood pressure or heart rate.
Like any drug, there are side effects you can expect to experience if you are taking Lucemyra. These include mild side effects such as drowsiness, dry mouth, ringing in the ears, or insomnia or trouble sleeping.
Some side effects can be more harmful or bothersome. If you experience these side effects of Lucemyra, you should tell your doctor right away. These more serious side effects include allergic reactions like a rash, hives, or swelling of the face or tongue; a slow heart rate; signs of an irregular rhythm to your heartbeat such as dizziness, chest pain, lightheadedness, or heart palpitations; or signs of unusually low blood pressure like fainting, lightheadedness, or fatigue.
All About the Existing Treatments for Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms
Lucemyra is not the first medicinal drug to be used in easing the difficulty of withdrawal from an opioid. Lucemyra is, however, the first non-opioid to be used in this way. In the past, the main drugs used in opioid withdrawal have included methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone.
For a quick overview of the most common methods of medically-assisted withdrawal, watch this video.
In the video, the director of a recovery center in California explains that there are three main purposes of drugs used in medically-assisted treatment. These include drugs focused on:
- Maintenance, or supporting the body as it comes off of a stronger drug that it is dependent on
- Cravings, or suppressing the urge or desire to use a drug as someone stops using opioids
- Withdrawal, or those that work to reduce or eliminate the unpleasant and uncomfortable symptoms of opioid withdrawal.
Methadone is an opioid drug often prescribed for severe pain. It is also used in a process called replacement therapy, in which another opioid is slowly replaced by methadone in the body.
Because methadone is still an opioid, it is still highly addictive. Generally, methadone is thought to be less risky than whatever opioid it is replacing. This is mostly because methadone can be obtained legally and administered by professionals. This eliminates the risk of the addict using methadone illegally or incorrectly. It also ensures that the addict doesn’t make rash decisions in finding ways to pay for or obtain it.
In withdrawing from opioids, most people slowly decrease the amount of methadone they are using until their body has learned to function without opioids. This process happens over a very long period of time – often about one year, but sometimes much longer.
Buprenorphine is an opioid drug sometimes prescribed for pain. It is also prescribed for those going through opioid withdrawal.
Buprenorphine is a partial agonist. More serious opioids, such as heroin and fentanyl, are full agonists. This means that buprenorphine has many of the same effects as other opioids, but to a lesser degree. Because of this, there is a lower (but still present) chance of addiction or physical dependence. Additionally, withdrawal from buprenorphine tends to be much less intense than withdrawal from full agonist opioids.
Buprenorphine can be obtained with a prescription, and is often used in rehab or other treatment centers so that users can be monitored by trained healthcare professionals.
Sometimes, buprenorphine causes serious or uncomfortable side effects like constipation, headache, stomach pain, vomiting, sweating, difficulty falling or staying asleep, dizziness, weakness, fatigue, numbness or tingling, depression, blurred vision or double vision, hives, rash, or difficulty breathing or swallowing.
Like any opioid, buprenorphine can slow your breathing. It’s important not to mix buprenorphine with other drugs, including alcohol, other opioids, and sleeping pills, to avoid stopping the flow of oxygen to your brain.
Naltrexone is another drug used in the treatment of opioid abuse disorder or opioid addiction. Naltrexone is not an opioid, and it functions as an antagonist. This means that it prevents the user from feeling the effects of opioids – for instance, someone regularly taking naltrexone could not get high from opioids.
Naltrexone should always be taken in conjunction with therapy and support groups, because it does not address the addiction itself. It is usually taken to prevent relapse after another drug or program has been put in place to address the addiction itself.
Naltrexone can often cause serious side effects, including but not limited to headaches, muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, fatigue, anxiety, restlessness, chills, constipation, cold- or flu-like symptoms, trouble sleeping, dizziness, rapid heart rate, increased thirst, irritability, loss of appetite, problems with sexual performance (for males), and an itchy skin rash.
If someone is taking naltrexone and then uses opioids, his or her body will immediately begin to go through withdrawal.
How is Lucemyra different from Methadone, Buprenorphine, and Naltrexone?
Instead of replacing the opioids in your body with less effective opioids or decreasing the effects of the opioids themselves, Lucemyra helps the user to withstand the physical symptoms of opioid withdrawal by making them weaker.
Because of this, Lucemyra is less likely to cause the user to become addicted. Additionally, Lucemyra makes withdrawal more bearable instead of just putting it off or combatting the opioid addict’s desire to use opioids again.
In any case, any attempt to stop using opioids should be paired with psychological support and accountability to prevent relapses.
All About Opioid Relapsing
The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as a chronic, relapsing brain disease. Like cancer, asthma, and diabetes, there’s always the possibility that you will be affected by it again, even if you’ve seemed to be cured for some time.
This is because addiction physically changes the brain. It takes constant care and vigilance to escape a relapse, but it is always worth it to keep you or your loved one safe from a relapse and the harmful effects of opioid abuse disorder or opioid addiction.
What are the Causes of Opioid Relapse?
Many former addicts will at some point use opioids again. In fact, the majority of addicts will relapse at some point. But if you know what usually causes relapses, you can avoid those major causes to help you or your loved one stay clean from opioids.
Generally, relapsing to opioids is caused by returning to certain situations, the presence of strong emotions, or the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms simply being too much to bear.
Many kinds of situations could lead to a relapse.
One kind of situation is any situation where you are around other people who are using opioids. This could be parties, certain parts of your city, or other situations. But if everyone around you is using, you’re much more likely to succumb to peer pressure and to rationalize your opioid use.
Another situation that makes relapse more likely is a situation in which you have often used opioids in the past. If you have used opioids to cope with a situation in the past, you’re more likely to fall back on them when you’re in that situation again.
Situations of great change are also likely to cause a relapse to opioids. Change is stressful, even when the change is positive. The more change is happening, the more likely you are to cope with that stress by using opioids.
Self-pity, overconfidence, and stress are the top three emotions that cause relapse.
Self-pity can lead to a relapse to opioid use if the addict convinces himself that he is not worthy of sobriety or has nothing to live for. When life gets hard, those experiencing self-pity may cope by using opioids. This is because they think life was easier when they were using opioids before. This is not true – it is always worth it to pursue sobriety, both for yourself and those you love.
Overconfidence can lead to a relapse when a user thinks he is more self-aware and stronger-willed than he really is. When someone is too confident, they think they can control their opioid use and may place themselves in risky situations. Far more often than not, this leads to a relapse to opioids.
Stress is one of the biggest causes of opioid relapse. Similarly to self-pity, relapses from stress occur when the former addict thinks that they cannot handle the stress on their own. They believe they need their opioid of choice to do so. This is one of the reasons that psychological and social support are so important in the recovery process.
Withdrawal symptoms can be unpleasant, dangerous, and difficult. For many people, the symptoms of opioid withdrawal are simply too much to bear, and they relapse almost before they’re completely clean or sober.
These physical and psychological symptoms – like anxiety, irritability, digestive issues, whole body aches or shaking, and other conditions – coupled with an intense psychological craving for the opioid makes an addict more likely to decide not to go through with opioid withdrawal or opioid detoxification. This is where Lucemyra can help to prevent relapses.
How Can Lucemyra Help Prevent a Relapse?
One of the biggest causes for a relapse to opioids is that the symptoms of opioid withdrawal are too much to bear. Lucemyra helps prevent this relapse to opioids by reducing the intensity of the symptoms of opioid withdrawal.
When the physical symptoms of withdrawal are not so bad or uncomfortable, it’s easier to focus on recovery instead of how bad you feel. This makes the psychological symptoms of withdrawal – the intense cravings for opioids – easier to deal with.
How Are Relapses Dangerous?
Relapses can be dangerous in a few ways. Mainly, relapsing on opioids puts you in danger of perpetuating an unhealthy cycle of opioid use or of overdosing on opioids.
When you relapse to opioids after getting clean from opioids, you are teaching your body to rely on opioids more and more. The longer you can stay sober from opioids, the more your body learns to function without them.
This can be dangerous because each time you relapse, the longer it will likely take your body to recover. This means more time with withdrawal symptoms and/or more time in rehab.
The chances of overdosing after a relapse are much higher than the chances of overdosing beforehand. After some time clean, your body loses a lot of the tolerance for opioids that it had previously.
Many former addicts will relapse and try to use the same amount of an opioid that they had been using previously. Now, though, their body can no longer process that amount of opioids. When this happens, you overdose.
Overdosing on opioids is incredibly dangerous and often leads to death.
Am I Weak If I Relapse on Opioids?
Many people wonder if relapsing on opioids means they are weak or have failed. This is not true. A relapse is simply a sign that treatment should be resumed, changed, or reevaluated.
So many people relapse to opioids, and if you experience a relapse, you are not alone. In fact, many celebrities have experienced relapses – and many have recovered from them and kept going.
If you relapse to opioids, you’re not alone. All of the following celebrities have relapsed to their drug or alcohol of choice at some point:
- Robert Downey Jr.
- Kurt Cobain
- Keith Urban
- Lindsay Lohan
- Demi Lovato
- Michael Jackson
A relapse to opioids doesn’t mean you have failed, it just means that you need to try again.
All About What This Means for Me
You may be wondering what all of this means for you or someone you love. So you know what Lucemyra does, what opioid withdrawal is like, and what makes a relapse likely. What does that mean for you?
What Does Lucemyra Mean for Addicts?
For addicts, the approval of Lucemyra for treatment of opioid withdrawal symptoms means that it is easier to get clean and to stay clean. When the symptoms of opioid withdrawal are reduced, it’s easier for recovering opioid addicts to resist the temptation to use again to stop the withdrawal symptoms.
Lucemyra also greatly decreases the likelihood that a recovering opioid addict will become addicted to another substance. Because Lucemyra is not an opioid, it has a much, much lower potential for causing addiction or dependence.
This is great news for recovering addicts – they only have to shake one addiction, not more. Instead of changing out a heroin addiction for a Methadone addiction, you can change out a heroin addiction (or a Percocet addiction, or a fentanyl addiction, or an OxyContin addiction) for a life free of addiction. This life can begin with a withdrawal made easier by Lucemyra making the opioid withdrawal symptoms less intense.
What Does Lucemyra Mean for Rehab Facilities?
Lucemyra’s use in reducing withdrawal symptoms means that the process of detoxing or withdrawing from opioids can be done more easily and more comfortably.
This could mean that rehab is more comfortable or even faster. The reduction of opioid withdrawal symptoms means that former addicts can get clean faster and more painlessly.
Many people disagree on whether or not medically-assisted treatment for opioid addiction is a good idea. Is medically-assisted treatment a crutch, or a cure? They often wonder if users are truly trying to get help, or if they’re trying to gain access to more opioids.
Unfortunately, there are addicts who abuse the systems put in place to help them. Many opioid addicts do play the system, either abusing or selling the very drugs provided to help them.
This is why it’s so important to ensure that medically-assisted treatment options are overseen by a doctor. This person can ensure that the treatment drugs are taken on the correct schedule, by the patient, and in a safe way. Coupled with other forms of support – counseling, therapy, family support, accountability, a 12-step group, and a strong commitment to truly getting clean and sober – medically-assisted treatment can still be helpful to recovering opioid addicts.
Thankfully, Lucemyra allows a compromise for those on both sides of this debate. Lucemyra is a non-opioid, not at a high risk for addiction, and only made to be taken for up to two weeks. This means that those receiving Lucemyra as treatment are not likely to use it as a substitute for their opioid of choice and are not likely to abuse it. It still benefits the addict, but only if they’re going through withdrawals from opioids.
What Does Lucemyra Mean Your Addicted Loved Ones?
For many people, watching a loved one go through withdrawals from opioids is scary and difficult. We don’t like to see our loved ones suffer, and opioid withdrawal can be a terrible experience.
With Lucemyra, the symptoms of opioid withdrawal are reduced – which means the suffering is reduced for those we love. The potential for discomfort for opioid withdrawal is decreased. This can mean that recovery is more successful for our loved ones who are addicted to opioids. This might even mean that the opioid addicts we know and love are more willing to go through treatment.
The Bottom Line: Lucemyra as Part of a Holistic Treatment Approach
The bottom line is that Lucemyra can be helpful, but not on its own. It takes more than reducing the symptoms of opioid withdrawal to truly make a successful recovery from opioids. Lucemyra can, however, play an important part in the process.
There are many options for therapy and accountability programs. These can be paired with medically-assisted treatment for recovering opioid addicts. These include cognitive behavioral therapy, individual therapy, family counseling, group therapy, holistic therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, 12-step programs, outpatient therapy, and inpatient therapy.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on developing healthy coping strategies for problems caused by opioid addiction and problems causing the opioid addiction. It has been found successful in many cases.
- Individual therapy focuses on a relationship between a recovering addict and a therapist. They work together to deal with the root problems of the addict’s addiction. This therapy can take the form of psychoanalysis or cognitive behavioral therapy.
- Family counseling addresses the family as a whole. This way, family members learn to support the addict. Additionally, the addict learns to make amends for the ways in which they’ve harmed their loved ones.
- Group therapy addresses a group of recovering addicts and one or more therapists. Those involved can find strength in each other’s successes and work through problems together.
- Holistic therapy addresses the needs of an addict at every level. This kind of therapy often advises large lifestyle changes. These changes work to better the overall health and well-being of the former addict.
- Motivational enhancement therapy is a rapid-fire series of therapy sessions. The individual talks through their reservations about quitting opioids or starting therapy. A treatment plan is formulated to best motivate the individual to proceed.
- 12-step programs, like Narcotics Anonymous, allow former addicts to see that they are not alone. Recovering opioid addicts can work through the stages of recovery at their own pace. They are held accountable by others who have gone through the same process.
- Outpatient therapy is any therapy that does not keep the patient overnight. Usually, patients come to a specified clinic or location regularly for counseling or medical treatment. Outpatient therapy is most successful when paired with a strong support system at home. It is also cheaper and provides more independence than inpatient treatment.
- Inpatient treatment requires the patient to live within a treatment facility during recovery. Inpatient treatment is more expensive and provides less independence than outpatient treatment. Inpatient treatment also has the highest success rates of all treatment options.
Regardless of the treatment option you choose, the road to recovery will be difficult but worthwhile. It may be helpful to ask your doctor if Lucemyra could help you in your recovery process.