Buprenorphine may sound like another type of dangerous and addictive prescription opioid. It shares a similar ending with morphine, a heavy narcotic painkiller commonly used in hospital settings. With the rise in abuse of prescription narcotics, you may find yourself wary of any medication ending in -orphine. Buprenorphine, however, is used to help drug addicts wean off of other opioid drugs like morphine or Vicodin and opiates such as heroin. Buprenorphine is also an opioid medication. It activates the same opioid receptors in the brain that heroin and prescription painkillers do. When it activates these receptors, it helps relieves the discomfort of detox and early recovery. Are you struggling to kick an active heroin or painkiller addiction? Have you tried with little effect to quit using “cold turkey” or with something like a 12-step program? Using the help of buprenorphine through medication assisted treatment may help you get sober. The following are some questions you may have about buprenorphine or medication assisted treatment and how it can help.
What is buprenorphine and how is it used to help addicts get sober?
Buprenorphine is an opioid medication used to help addicts detox off of opiates and opioids. Approved for clinical use by the FDA in 2002, it is a newer medication used as an alternative to methadone to manage withdrawal symptoms. Buprenorphine is a drug commonly used in medication assisted treatment (MAT). After using heroin, prescription painkillers, or other opiates or opioids for long periods of time, quitting suddenly is difficult. When you deprive your body of the substances it is used to all at once, you will experience opiate withdrawal symptoms. If you are not familiar with opiate and opioid withdrawals, symptoms include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Joint pain
- Body aches
- Muscle cramps or spasms
- Abdominal problems
- High blood pressure
- Rapid heart rate
These symptoms last anywhere from a few days up to two weeks. Psychological symptoms, such as drug cravings, can last longer. Since opiates and opioids affect how the brain processes pain, body aches are common during early painkiller and heroin detox. The buprenorphine activates the opioid receptors, helping reduce or relieve many of these symptoms. Since buprenorphine activates opioid receptors, it provides some similar effects to opiates and opioids. Euphoria and slowed breathing are commonly experienced when taking buprenorphine. However, the effects are more minimal than those of traditional opiates and opioids like heroin and painkillers. This does not mean that buprenorphine is completely safe, though. Buprenorphine should be taken only under medical supervision, either within a medical facility or as a take-home prescription. Despite the muted effects, there is still potential for addiction, especially if you are predisposed to addictive behaviors. Keeping in contact with your doctor and attending every appointment during your medication assisted treatment is important.
What is medication assisted treatment and how can it help me during early sobriety?
Medication assisted treatment, or MAT for short, involves the use of medications to help individuals during detox. Some detox facilities require patients to be completely sober during the detox period, also called a “cold turkey” detox. This type of heroin or painkiller detox is uncomfortable and often painful, resulting in the need for an alternative. Medication assisted treatment is the alternative. By incorporating the use of medications such as Butrans and Buprenex, doctors can relieve many of the common withdrawal symptoms experienced during detox. MAT couples the use of medication with counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy for a well-rounded approach to addiction treatment.
Are medication assisted treatment and inpatient detox the same thing?
No, medication assisted treatment and inpatient detox are not the same thing. Inpatient detox takes place within a facility where you are monitored around the clock by doctors and nurses. They observe you to ensure you are safe during the withdrawal period. However, inpatient detox is not always required. The use of medication assisted treatment has cut down on the need for inpatient detox services. With MAT, you receive treatment on an outpatient basis. Depending on the center, you check in either daily or weekly to receive medications and attend counseling sessions. Medication assisted treatment helps many recovering addicts who are unable to commit to an inpatient detox. If you are attending school or working a full-time job and cannot attend inpatient detox, MAT is a helpful alternative. You will still receive the care and help you need while remaining present at work or school.
What types of buprenorphine medications are available to me in medication assisted treatment?
There are a few types of buprenorphine-based medications used in medication assisted treatment facilities. The most commonly used is Suboxone, but Butrans and Buprenex are emerging as alternatives. Your doctor in your MAT program will determine which medication will be best for you.
Suboxone is an orally-ingested buprenorphine medication. It is on film strips that you place in your mouth either in your cheek or beneath your tongue until they dissolve. Suboxone was one of the original buprenorphine medications used to treat opioid and opiate dependence.
Butrans is a buprenorphine medication placed on a transdermal patch. You place the patch on your skin and the medication lasts for seven days before you need a new patch. In addition to use for addiction treatment, Butrans is sometimes used as a pain reliever. For this reason, it is important to use Butrans only under the care of a doctor.
Buprenex is another alternative buprenorphine medication. Buprenex comes in the form of injections given intramuscularly. These injections will be dispensed to you by your doctor. Like Butrans, Buprenex is also used as a pain reliever. Make sure to keep an eye on your reaction to the drug and maintain open communication with your doctor during treatment.
Are Butrans and Buprenex as addictive as medications such as Suboxone?
Buprenorphine is the active ingredient in each Butrans, Buprenex, and Suboxone. Although they each are different forms of the medication, they all include the prescription opioid. One of the main concerns surrounding the use of buprenorphine as a treatment method is the potential for addiction. It isn’t as strong as drugs like heroin or prescription painkillers but it still activates the opioid receptors in your brain. You may have heard of the high potential for addiction to detox drugs like Suboxone. Although buprenorphine medications are not as strong as traditional prescription opioids, they are still addictive. It seems counter-productive to attend medication assisted treatment for heroin or painkiller addiction only to become addicted to Butrans or Buprenex. This is one of the negatives of MAT; the chance you may find yourself addicted to the detox drugs. For this reason, any medication containing buprenorphine should be taken only with a prescription under doctor supervision. Whether you’re taking Suboxone orally, Butrans patches on your skin, or Buprenex injections, it is important to keep in contact with your medication assisted treatment doctor. When you use Butrans and Buprenex while in medication assisted treatment, you commonly have either daily or weekly appointments with your doctor. Monitor how you are feeling on these medications between visits. If you sense an addiction forming, be sure to let your doctor know as soon as possible.
Will I experience any negative side effects when taking buprenorphine medications such as Buprenex and Butrans?
No medication comes without its side effects. Since buprenorphine is an opioid, there are some side effects similar to traditional prescription opioid drugs. They range from mild to moderate and may cause some discomfort during use. Common side effects of buprenorphine medications like Buprenex and Butrans include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Muscle cramps or aches
- Difficulties sleeping
- Drug cravings
Only you can decide whether the side effects of buprenorphine outweigh the benefits of a more comfortable detox. The uncomfortable side effects of the drugs are minimal compared to the sometimes excruciating opiate and opioid detox. During your initial consultation, you can discuss options and alternatives with your doctor in order to make an informed treatment decision.
What is the difference between buprenorphine and methadone medications?
Methadone was the original medication used to treat opioid and opiate addiction and dependence. However, there is a high potential for addiction to methadone, resulting in treatment sometimes creating another addiction. There was a great need for an alternative to methadone treatment. Buprenorphine was developed with a lower potential for addiction in mind. As a result, buprenorphine medications like Butrans and Buprenex have a lower impact on opioid receptors than methadone. This lower impact means there are fewer symptoms similar to those produced by painkillers and heroin. There is also a lower chance of becoming addicted to buprenorphine medications than those that are methadone-based. The use of buprenorphine also causes less respiratory depression when compared to methadone. This means you must take greater amounts of buprenorphine in order to overdose, while methadone requires much less to overdose.
How long do I need to take buprenorphine or go to medication assisted treatment for?
The length of your medication assisted treatment program depends on the severity of your addiction. If you were a heavy user, your withdrawals will last longer and require a greater amount of time in treatment. The length of your treatment plan is determined by your doctor during your initial assessment. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to addiction treatment; you will receive an individualized treatment plan fitted specifically for your needs. Medication assisted treatment can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Some doctors prefer to maintain buprenorphine treatment during the first few months of recovery in order to reduce drug cravings. When you crave opioids and opiates less, you have a lower chance of relapsing. Some medication assisted treatment programs only handle the detox period. Once your withdrawal symptoms have subsided, you will wean off of the detox drugs and transfer into a counseling-only maintenance plan. The type of treatment plan your doctor decides on will depend on your addiction. If you are highly likely to relapse, you may remain on the buprenorphine treatment for longer than someone who is less likely to relapse. You do not have to worry about your length of use, though; your doctor will decide this for you as you progress in treatment.
How do I know if I need the help of medication assisted treatment or buprenorphine?
Whether or not you will need medication assisted treatment depends on a few different factors:
- The types of drugs you used
- The amount of drugs you used
- The length of time you used for
If you only used opiates or opioids occasionally, you may not experience the intense withdrawal symptoms present in those who are heavy users. There may be slight discomfort when you discontinue use but your detox will be relatively tolerable overall. But if you used large amounts on a regular basis, medication assisted treatment will likely be necessary. If you will experience withdrawal symptoms during detox, MAT will be a helpful component in managing them. Although you might manage detox on your own, MAT makes the process more manageable. The use of medication assisted treatment and detox drugs like Butrans or Buprenex should be decided on by your doctor. Make an appointment to talk about your situation with your doctor in order to begin the process of MAT. You can discuss your options and the best course of action as well as receive a referral during your doctor’s appointment. They will help you make the final decision on what to do for treatment.
How can I find medication assisted treatment to help with your addiction?
You can speak with your doctor to receive a referral to a medication assisted treatment program. You can also call your insurance company to find out whether or not MAT is covered under your benefits. Speaking with your insurance company will help you determine what course of action to take. If your addiction is severe enough, it may be in your best interest to proceed with medication assisted treatment regardless of insurance coverage. When your life is on the line, treatment is the most important thing to receive. Without getting sober, you will never live a normal, happy, healthy, and productive life. Attending a MAT program will likely be the best gift you ever give to yourself. When looking for a medication assisted treatment program, looking in your immediate area is the best option. Your doctor may also have suggestions for you if they are familiar with addiction treatment. If not, looking at rehab locators on the internet can help you find a treatment center in your area.
How can I stay sober after using buprenorphine to wean me off of opiates or opioids?
There are a variety of options available to you for aftercare following medication assisted treatment. Some MAT facilities provide aftercare while others will suggest an aftercare program.
Attending inpatient rehab after medication assisted treatment may help those who are severely dependent on opioids or opiates. If you feel you will not stay sober in your home environment, inpatient rehab can be a helpful way to receive treatment. During inpatient rehab, you will receive 24/7 care from a team of nurses and therapists. Inpatient rehab involves individual and group therapy sessions as well as medication management.
Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)
Medication assisted treatment is somewhat similar to an intensive outpatient program due to the counseling services provided. However, an intensive outpatient program is more involved and offers intensive programming intended to educate and advise. You will work individually with a therapist in addition to attending group therapy sessions. Intensive outpatient programs are a great option for those who attend school or have a full-time job. Oftentimes, IOP sessions take place in the evenings so you can attend after your activities during the day.
Residential Sober Living
Residential sober living programs are helpful if you cannot or should not return to your normal living environment. Sober living provides a safe space for you to focus on staying sober during early recovery. It helps you get back into the rhythm and routine of life without the temptation of drugs and alcohol in your home. Your housemates have the same goals and focus as you do, providing a fostering environment for those seeking sobriety. Your length of stay in sober living depends on the facility and the amount of time they allow you to stay for. Some sober livings only allow you to stay for six months while others allow you to live there until you are ready to move out. First, consult with your doctor to find out how you should approach treatment. None of these decisions should be made on your own. Medication assisted treatment with the use of buprenorphine medications can be incredibly beneficial during early recovery. In order to have the best chance at long-term sobriety, seeking the help of medications like Butrans or Buprenex could be the best option for you. With the help of medication assisted treatment, you can begin the path to a healthy new lifestyle free of heroin or painkillers. Give yourself the chance you deserve to break away from the chains of addiction and run towards freedom from the bondage of drugs.