For many in recovery from heroin, especially early recovery, they will be offered an opportunity to take drug such as suboxone, or methadone. These drugs can act as inhibitors to help avoid the physical pain that comes from heroin withdrawal. At its surface, this seems like a no-brainer right? Who wants to feel pain? However, there is more to the question and those in recovery should have all the information before they answer the question: Should I Take Suboxone?
What is suboxone?
Suboxone, a combination medication containing buprenorphine and naloxone, is one of the main medications used for medication-assisted therapy (MAT) for opiate addiction. Use of MATs has been shown to lower the risk of fatal overdoses by approximately 50%. Suboxone works by tightly binding to the same receptors in the brain as other opiates, such as heroin, morphine, and oxycodone. By doing so, it blunts intoxication with these other drugs, it prevents cravings, and it allows many people to transition back from a life of addiction to a life of relative normalcy and safety.
This transition back from a life of addiction sounds great in the beginning. For a heroin addict, not having to go through the physical withdrawals can be the difference between getting sober and not. However, there is a dark side to this method that few doctors will discuss. In fact, very few who actually know about drug addiction understand the negative effects that MAT can have on an addicts long term sobriety.
Two Ways to recover
There are two main ways to go about recovery: what is called abstinence-based recovery or medication-assisted therapy/recovery. For those who believe in abstinence-based recovery, a substance abuser must be free from all mood altering drugs in order to be declared clean and sober. For those who believe in MAT, usually doctors and psychiatrists, continuing to use a drug to stop doing another drug is deemed reasonable. I would agree with this up to a point. If you are a recovering heroin addict and you are afraid of the withdrawals but want to get sober, then starting a course of Suboxone is fine. However, the main caveat, and one that most doctors fail to prescribe, is that there MUST be an end date to the prescription. The addict MUST taper off of the drug in order to not be simply replacing a drug with another drug. What usually happens with these “prescriptions” is that an addict will continue to use the same amount of Suboxone every day without tapering off and will eventually be in need of a continued supply of Suboxone. The doctors usually don’t care because it is continue revenue. However, the substance user will look up one day and realize he or she has now been addicted to Suboxone for 2 years. And here is another kicker they don’t explain to you, the withdrawal from Suboxone can be worse than heroin! The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) on their website state:
“Once you discontinue Suboxone use, you’ll begin experiencing withdrawals. Common symptoms during Suboxone withdrawals are similar to the ones experienced during withdrawal from other opioids. Suboxone withdrawal symptoms include:
Guess what the withdrawal symptoms are for heroin withdrawal? So, in a sense, you are simply kicking the can down the road to a later date. At which time, your withdrawal may be worse than the first.
now or later?
So, this kicking of the can usually results in a relapse later in recovery which can be devastating, and even more so deadly. Deadly because the substance user does not have the same tolerance to heroin as he or she once had and this can result in an overdose. Medical doctors take an oath to “do no harm” to their patients. And they firmly believe that they are helping by eliminating the suffering of the addict. However, the purpose of MAT is to help people taper off of opiates. If this is the plan, then by all means, go for it. However, if your doctor believes that you can remain on the same dosage of Suboxone for an indefinite amount of time then they aren’t really helping you achieve sobriety. They are merely helping you avoid the inevitable.
If you or a loved one is suffering from heroin addiction, or any addiction, San Diego Sober Living is here to help you achieve sobriety. Call us today for a free consultation. We have been there and we are here to help.