Opioid withdrawal can be a life-threatening condition especially when left untreated and without the patient getting enough support from peers, friends, families and professionals. Do you know how to ease opioid withdrawal symptoms? A withdrawal symptom occurs in individuals who are considered to have developed some form of physiological dependence on certain drugs or substances and who discontinue or drastically reduces the use of the same. Many people experience opioid withdrawal symptoms. In the United States alone, around 808,000 people reported using heroin in 2018 and approximately 11.4 million used opioid-based pain relievers without prescription. While you can prevent unauthorized access to opioids with locking medication bags, dealing with opioid withdrawal is another thing. While you can cope with opioid withdrawal using certain home remedies, the best way to address it is through rehabilitation.
It takes a certain period of time to get rid of physiological dependence and the journey to being sober may include some relapses and bumps in the road. Indeed, going through withdrawal is no easy task so it is important to understand what happens to an individual going through opioid withdrawal syndrome.
What is Opioid Dependency?
An opioid is a certain type of drug commonly prescribed for pain treatment. Opioids can include both opiates such as morphine, opium, heroin and codeine; and synthetic opioids such as hydrocodone, methadone and oxycodone. Both types of opioids have similar effects, but certain types of opioids are deemed illegal such as heroin. The most commonly prescribed opioids are the following medicines:
- Oxycontin (oxycodone)
- Vicodin (hydrocodone and acetaminophen)
- Dilaudid (hydromorphone)
While opioids are considered very effective for pain management (and in fact legally used in hospitals and prescriptions), it can lead to drug dependency and addiction. Based on statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, around 26.4 to 36 million people across the globe have abused opioids at one point in their lives. This attest to the growing opioid crisis that have swept the world leading to greater opioid dependency. Opioid dependency is a state wherein the body has become altered due to consistent and prolonged opioid usage. Stopping or decreasing opioid intake can lead to physical symptoms of withdrawal which is especially true when opioids are taken in high doses for consecutive days or weeks.
Opioid dependency can cause individuals to steal similar drugs especially from among the people who take care of them. Caregivers and family members supporting someone with opioid dependency oftentimes use medication bags to prevent the patient from accessing their prescription drugs.
What are Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms?
Opioid withdrawal symptoms can be classified between early and late symptoms depending on the stage of the withdrawal period. Early symptoms usually begin to show within 12 hours of last drug usage (for cases involving heroin) and at least 30 hours (for cases involving methadone exposure).
Early symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:
- Easily agitated
- Anxiety and restlessness
- Muscle aches
- Increased lacrimation
- Sleeplessness and insomnia
- Runny nose
- Profuse sweating
- Excessive yawning
Late symptoms include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Dilated pupils and blurred eyesight
- Goosebumps on the skin
- High blood pressure
Furthermore, symptoms can be categorized as mild, moderate, moderately severe and severe. This can be identified through a scientific scoring system called the Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale (COWS) which measures the intensity of symptoms and provides a scoring system that allows health professionals to accurately diagnose the level of withdrawal.
While the symptoms themselves are generally not life-threatening, people going through withdrawal will find this experience quite uncomfortable. The natural response of the body when going through withdrawal is to crave for opioid – something to watch out for when taking care of an individual with opioid dependency. Regardless, it is important to note that despite the unpleasant experience of going through withdrawal symptoms, patients generally experience improvement within 72 hours without exposure to opioid drugs and significant decrease in symptoms after a week.
How to Cope with Opioid Withdrawal?
Taking care of someone going through opioid withdrawal can sometimes be a difficult task especially when that person also has some prescription drugs he/she has to take regularly. Withdrawal patients tend to scour closets and medicine cabinets to look for opioid alternatives just to fill the craving – something which can be very dangerous for the patient. An effective way to avoid this from happening is with the use of a locking medication bag. A locking medication bag allows caregivers to securely store their prescription medicine in a container fastened with state-of-the-art security features only the user can access. Other custom medication bags are available varying in size, shape and functionality.
Treatment for opioid withdrawal can vary depending on the intensity of the symptoms. For individuals suffering mild symptoms, a simple prescription of acetaminophen (Tylenol), aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can be good options. Doctors may also prescribe loperamide to help with diarrhea-like symptoms and even hydroxyzine for nausea treatment.
Severe withdrawal symptoms may entail a combination of hospital confinement and medication. A common prescription drug for people going through withdrawal symptoms is clonidine – a chemical drug that helps reduce the intensity of withdrawal by up to 75 percent according to studies. Clonidine prescription is especially effective against anxiety, cramps, muscle aches, sweating, lacrimation and runny nose.
Opioid blockers are also used to treat withdrawal symptoms such as suboxone. Suboxone treatment is proven to shorten the intensity of withdrawal symptoms as well as the length of detoxification from opioid drugs.
While Methadone is an opioid in itself, it can also be used as a form of treatment against withdrawal symptoms especially in long-term therapeutic interventions. Methadone usage can easily be reduced in a controlled setting and less likely to produce intense withdrawal symptoms.
In most severe cases, rapid detoxification (which requires anesthesia) can be done but it does come with its own risks. For example, taking opioid-blocking drugs such as naloxone or naltrexone while under anesthesia can cause vomiting. Vomiting while unconscious can lead to suffocation or death. Because of this, many doctors tend not to recommend this method of treatment.