Introduction to heroin withdrawal
It is a kind thing to help a friend. However, it is good to know ahead of time what you’re getting into. If you plan on helping a friend kick heroin, then know the following. Your friend is going to experience a variety of physical withdrawal symptoms, including body aches, sneezing, nausea, diarrhea, as well as emotional problems, such as depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. So be prepared. Oh yah. One more thing. He or she may not sleep, so you may not either.
What help can you offer?
Unless you are a physician, you are limited as to what you can do. Though that does not mean there isn’t a lot you can do. Helping your friend stay physically clean is very important, so running him or her a regular bath, or an Epsom soak, or simply getting them into a hot shower, is beneficial. Serving beverages to maintain hydration, but without ice, because they have the chills. In other words, serve warm drinks or hot drinks, but do not include coffee because caffeine will exacerbate the withdrawal symptoms. Softer clothes, softer blankets, softer pillows, are just a few of the items that can help quite a bit. Then when it comes to meals, dairy is your enemy and red meat is your friend.
The heroin addict lifestyle is fraught with danger, and that would seem to be a pretty good reason to quit. However, for most heroin addicts that’s not enough. In general, heroin addicts need professional help to quit. So getting your friend to a doctor may be the single best thing you can do. That’s just a fact.
Medically detoxification, also known as “Med Detox,” involves the use of pharmacotherapies to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Pharmacotherapies used to treat heroin withdrawal symptoms, include opioid agonists such as Buprenorphine and Methadone. Buprenorphine based medications can be used on an outpatient basis, so this is probably your best bet.
Implementing Med Detox
Med Detox, when properly conducted, can be concluded without significant discomfort. There are currently only three medications FDA approved for heroin dependence treatment, and they include:
- Buprenorphine (Zubsolv, Subutex and Suboxone)
1) Methadone is a slow-acting full agonist opioid. This means it is a strong opioid and it lasts for a long time. The drug effects are much less than the “heroin high” and it’s administered orally so the risk of HIV and Hepatitis C drop significantly. Methadone’s long elimination half-life means that there is a significant delay in the onset of opioid withdrawal symptoms which means that life in general is more manageable.
2) Buprenorphine is a partial agonist opioid. This means it activates opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord just like heroin does, but with significantly less effect. Buprenorphine suppresses withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings but without intoxicating the patient. It’s usefulness stems from its unique pharmacological and safety profile, which encourages treatment adherence and reduces the possibilities for both abuse and overdose.
3) Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist. This means it blocks the action of opioids, and is not addictive. It also has a long elimination half-life and its therapeutic effects can last up to 3-days. Naltrexone is not a narcotic like methadone and buprenorphine and therefore cannot result in physical dependence. Unfortunately, patients often have trouble complying with this treatment, often because it is not an opioid, and non-compliance limits naltrexone’s effectiveness.
The attitude and approach of the doctor during examination are of paramount importance. Heroin addicts are often hesitant or reluctant to disclose their drug use. Many feel hopelessness, discomfit, shame, fear, distrust, and the desire to continue using drugs. They are simply not open to discuss their heroin addiction problem with anyone including their physician.