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Drug Replacement Therapy Not the Answer to Heroin Addiction
When it comes to treating heroin addiction, some advocate for drug replacement therapy (DRT). The truth is that this treatment is inefficient and the powerful narcotics that are used are extremely dangerous, extremely addictive and come with a host of severe side effects. That is why this method of therapy is useless at best and criminally negligent at worst; and never recommended.
Understanding the Rise of These Clinics
Often times methadone is used when treating addiction to opiates. However, the interesting part is that this substance itself is a synthetic opioid. Methadone has been around since 1937 and was developed in Germany. While it is chemically different from heroin and morphine, it works on the opioid receptors just as those do. As a result, it produces many of the same effects as heroin and morphine. That is why alternative names for this method of treatment are opioid replacement therapy (ORT) or opioid substitution therapy. If it seems weird to replace one substance with another, that is because you are right – it is strange to do so. Instead of helping people recover from an actual problem (which modern rehabilitation techniques have the capability of doing), they are further medicating these problems by using something else. If the substances used in drug replacement therapy were harmless that would make using them a bit better, but the fact that they are very dangerous and extremely addictive makes the choice for replacement therapy even more puzzling.
These Drugs Are Not Without Their Own Problems
According to a recent study published by the NDIC (the National Drug Intelligence Center), the number of deaths related to methadone exploded between 1999 and 2004. The main reason that the number of deaths increased is the lack of education provided with treatment and its dangers, including unsupervised prescription use. If we take into consideration that people are prescribed methadone to replace other opiate addictions, you might be shocked to find out that there are significant dangers to using this replacement medication. The biggest danger associated with using it is the fact that just like heroin, the body quickly becomes accustomed to it. After building up a tolerance, most users are going to need to take more and more methadone to achieve the same desired results. The problem is that a high dose of this controlled substance can be fatal; especially when taken in combination with alcohol.
Why Replacement is Borderline Criminal
The truth is that methadone and suboxone have become legal goldmines. Instead of steering someone towards true rehabilitation and drug-free withdrawal, it is far easier to medicate an opiate addict. Is it legal? Yes. Is it ethical? Hardly! If someone goes through rehab, completes a detoxification program and remains completely clean and sober, there is no more money to be made off of them. Methadone on the other hand, which itself is extremely addictive, is being prescribed to alleviate the addiction to heroin. This is basically substituting an illegal substance for a prescription. The only true difference is that the money goes to the pharmaceutical company instead of a drug dealer somewhere in South America or Afghanistan.
These replacement narcotics only mask the withdrawal symptoms. In actuality, these prescriptions feed the existing dependency. Uninformed patients seeking treatment that want to detox from opiates are prescribed these drugs by their physicians, yet they are unknowingly using an opiate-based drug that merely curbs their cravings. Instead of permanently ridding themselves of their addiction, they are substituting it. If they were to stop taking the medication, their need to use would increase again. Ultimately, this process does not reach the very core of opiate dependency; they merely maintain opioid levels within the user’s receptors, which prevent the physical withdrawal symptoms. That is exactly what suboxone does. It gives the user the false notion that the initial dependency on heroin has been treated. As a result, users believe themselves to be “cured” and sometimes even stops taking suboxone entirely, believing that they no longer need it. However, just because there are no actual withdrawal symptoms, it does not mean that there is no actual dependency. Patients notice that they suffer from withdrawal symptoms after missing just a single dose of suboxone.
It may initially be cheaper for medical personnel to give out replacement medication than it would be to have all these individuals go through long-term inpatient treatment with some form of holistic or biophysical detox. However, the truth is that the two should not be compared as far as costs are concerned, because they are not relatable treatment options. Someone having to get up early seven days a week for his or her methadone fix, which merely masks symptoms, is in no way comparable to someone taking an active role in changing their lives. People that attend a long-term inpatient heroin rehab program choose to not only detox, but also strive to avoid relapse by knowing the exact reason they turned to self-medicating in the first place. They are changing their lives; not simply taking medication to fool their body into believing that there is no problem.
The Truth Behind Needing DRT
Opioid replacement therapy should never be the first option when it comes to helping someone that is struggling with a heroin addiction. Yet for many clinics and physicians, it has become just that. We have to wonder whether our physicians that prescribe this option have simply become complacent when it comes to treating addiction or whether the pharmaceutical companies are influencing their decision-making process.
It is not a choice that should be taken lightly and people should be informed as to what the consequences of turning to DRT/ORT might be. If you or someone you care about is struggling with heroin addiction and have been recommended this type of therapy, make sure that you understand the alternatives, as there are successful solutions available. A drug-free rehabilitation and detoxification process are very much possible for the vast majority of people that struggle with heroin addiction.