Man on medication-assisted heroin treatment

Medication is used in a number of different ways to help with drug dependency. Counselling and other psychosocial treatments in combination with medication offer the best hope for long-term success. Indeed, research has shown that those who rely on medication alone are more likely to go back to using drugs than those who also had psychosocial support.

You may take medication as part of a detox. Some detox involves gradually reducing your medication dose to stagger your withdrawal; this is called agonist-assisted detox. Common drugs used for agonist-assisted detox include methadone and buprenorphine.

Other medications can be given to help you get over the symptoms of withdrawal. This is called symptomatic relief with ibuprofen, some benzodiazepines and lofexidine commonly given for this.

You may take medication after detox to help you stay away from heroin – this is called medication-assisted relapse prevention. The drug used for this is naltrexone.

Maintenance therapy involves taking medication to help you become stable and to replace heroin. Common drugs used for maintenance are methadone, buprenorphine and buprenorphine/naloxone.

How does medication fit in with recovery?
However you want it to – or even not at all for you! In a recent survey of people in treatment, the majority of people described medication as incredibly helpful to their recovery and believe it gave them breathing space for the first time in years. It also helped them get stable, focus on Staying healthy and sort out issues with work, their family and housing. For some others, medication was a barrier to recovery and they wanted to get off it as soon as possible.

Can medication cure my dependence?
While medications can help control your cravings and withdrawal symptoms, they will not stop you being dependent on opioids. Whatever type of treatment you choose, overcoming dependence will take time and will require long-term behavioural and lifestyle changes.

Other things that you should be aware of while considering treatment.

Urine Testing
When you start your recovery journey, you may be asked to take urine tests by your doctor. These are used to measure what drugs you have recently used. This could be important if your treatment plan says you will stop using street drugs alongside any new medication or counselling you are getting.

Doctors can prescribe a number of different treatments to help you on your path to recovery. These can include maintenance therapies, which are a long-term treatment, or detox therapies, which can help manage any withdrawal symptoms you feel while you stop using heroin. They can also help you to improve your health during your recovery. If you decide you want treatment and would like medication, discussing your options with your community drugs service will help your doctor prescribe the right medication for you.

Picking Up
Where you go to get your medication will depend on what treatment you are prescribed. Some medications will require you to go see your doctor while others can be taken at your local pharmacy. If this is important to you, you should discuss it with your community drugs service.

Equal treatment
Everybody has a right to treatment. However, many drug users will experience discrimination and stigma at some point. If you feel you have been discriminated against you can find help and advice at a number of support organisations.

Tips for Success
If you have a problem with alcohol or stimulants (cocaine, crack cocaine, amphetamines), as well as heroin or similar drugs, then you may need a different treatment regime and/or to deal with your alcohol use separately. Some agencies will tell you to deal with your alcohol problem before they will prescribe you any medications. The best agencies will help you work out how you can safely manage to reduce your alcohol and drug use and will support you to do so.

Use your medication as your doctor or key worker recommends and, if you need to reduce or increase your dose, talk with them about it. Sometimes it can be daunting to ask a doctor for changes to your treatment, but they will listen to you and should take what you say seriously.