A Look at Medications Used to Treat Opioid Addiction

Published On: October 10, 2017|Categories: Addiction Treatment|
Treating Opioid Abuse with Medication

It is widely known that there is an ongoing opioid epidemic with nearly 2 million people battling a prescription opioid addiction. Communities are fighting this epidemic every day. For families who have a loved one who is addicted to opioids, it can be terrifying.

The effects of these drugs are fast-acting and long-lasting. Seeking opioid addiction treatment is one of the few effective methods of breaking one’s addiction. Thankfully, treatment modalities like medication-assisted treatment (MAT) not only offer some relief from the painful effects of opioid withdrawal, but can help sustain sobriety in the long term.

What is MAT?

Medication-assisted treatment is the practice of using non-addictive, FDA-approved medications to help an individual withdraw from the effects of opioid addiction. Depending on the length of time, the dosage amount and each person’s personal history, withdrawal and detox can be an uncomfortable, sometimes life-threatening process if not completed under the careful supervision of a medical professional.

MAT allows for the usage of safe medications to bring individuals over the peak discomfort of withdrawal and get their bodies to a stable state from which to proceed into long-term recovery.

A FAQ about medication-assisted treatment wonders about replacing one prescription medication with another one. The important thing to remember is that the drugs used in MAT do not have the same addictive, manipulating effect on the brain as opioids. Whereas opioids seek to hijack the brain’s natural processes, these medications used in MAT seek to restore those natural processes.

FDA-approved medicine for opioid addiction treatment

Depending on their circumstance, clients seeking medication-assisted treatment might receive prescriptions for one of the following medicines approved for opioid addiction:


Buprenorphine is a newcomer in the treatment of opioid addiction, but it has proven to be effective due to its ability to activate opioid receptors. This tricks the body and reduces cravings while also stopping withdrawal symptoms from manifesting. Typically, though, buprenorphine medications are used in acute situations or for long-term management to prevent a relapse.

It comes in adjustable doses matched to the needs of the patient. It is given in pill form and has few side effects. Buprenorphine may be distributed by doctors, but it can be expensive.


Naltrexone (brand name is Vivitrol) is most often used as part of the maintenance phase of treating someone addicted to opioids. It is nonaddictive and has no withdrawal effects when usage stops. It is a receptor blocker, meaning it prevents a person from getting high or feeling euphoric if they do use an opioid. Additionally, naltrexone reduces and lessens the severity of opioid cravings.

It is offered in pill form or injected on a monthly basis.


Typically, clonidine is not used on its own when treating opioid withdrawal, but is effective when administered alongside other medications and treatments. It is actually a blood pressure medication, but has shown effectiveness in helping reduce the fight or flight response that is typical in opioid withdrawal. It is consumed either in a tablet or long-acting pill once a day.


Methadone is probably the best-known pharmacological therapy for opioid dependence. This is because it is the most widely used. The reason is simple: it is the best treatment available. It is effective at stopping withdrawal symptoms and cravings. It can also be used over a long term with doses being gradually lowered to wean a person off once they have reached sustained recovery.

The biggest drawback with methadone is it must be distributed at a clinic. This requires a person to visit a center to receive their dose, so it is recommended as a solution during immediate recovery and not long-term. It also can cause serious side effects when not used correctly, including depressed breathing. However, medical professionals carefully monitor doses, with each dose being just enough to retrain the brain to prevent the need for further medication.

Considering medication-assisted treatment?

An addiction to opioid drugs can feel impossible to beat without treatment as these drugs change the way a person thinks and how their brain works. MAT has proven to be the most successful way to treat this type of addiction and help a person to become free and healthy.

Learn more about our MAT program by calling Pyramid Healthcare today at 888-694-9996.

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