Opioid Addiction Treatment with Buprenorphine and Methadone

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Opioid Addiction Treatment With Buprenorphine and Methadone

More New Yorkers die of drug overdoses than homicides, suicides and car crashes combined. Over 80% of drug overdoses in the city involve opioids, which include heroin and prescription painkillers, such as:

  • Heroin
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Fentanyl

Recently fentanyl, a drug that is 50 times more powerful than heroin, has been showing up in heroin, cocaine, pills marked as Xanax® and other drugs. Fentanyl was involved in nearly half of the overdose deaths in NYC in 2016.

Not everyone who takes opioids (or other drugs) will develop an addiction, but for those who do, help is available in NYC. Getting help for an addiction does not mean having to leave home, a job or school.

What is Addiction?+

Addiction (also called substance use disorder) is a chronic health condition in which people who take drugs continue taking them despite the negative impact on their health or lives. Individuals with addiction may have a difficult time moving on from drug use on their own. When people with an opioid addiction stop taking opioids, they often get strong urges or cravings for drugs and experience intense muscle aches, nausea and vomiting. These are symptoms of opioid withdrawal. They may continue experiencing strong urges or cravings many months or even years after they stopped using. These symptoms of can lead a person to return to drug use, even after periods of abstinence and despite a strong desire not to.

Opioid addiction can be treated successfully with medications. These medications can reduce cravings or urges to use drugs, prevent overdose and protect a person’s overall health. Treatment works best when it is tailored to the individual and addresses drug use, as well as other social, emotional and health issues. Similar to other chronic health conditions, people with addiction can have periods where their health condition is not well-controlled and they return to drug use. This is not a sign of weakness or personal failure. Good care often requires adjusting treatment or providing additional support.

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Opioid Addiction Treatment with Medication+

The most effective treatment for opioid addiction includes the use of medications, particularly methadone or buprenorphine. These medications are prescribed by a health care provider and taken daily. They are most successful when taken for an open-ended time period, possibly for months, years or sometimes even lifelong, depending on the individual. These medications are often combined with counseling or supportive care.

Such longer-term treatment allows people who have an opioid addiction to achieve greater stability in their lives and health. This reduces their risk of returning to drug use.

Treatment for opioid addiction with methadone or buprenorphine has long been shown to reduce a person’s risk of overdose, HIV, hepatitis and other bloodborne diseases. They are the gold standard of treatment for heroin and prescription opioid addiction.

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How Methadone and Buprenorphine Work+

Methadone and buprenorphine reduce the risk of relapse to heroin or other opioid use and overdose by:

  • Preventing the powerful cravings for opioids, which can continue in some people for a long time after they stop taking the drugs.
  • Stopping drug withdrawal
  • Blocking the effects of heroin and other opioids.

Listen to these New Yorkers’ stories of how buprenorphine or methadone treatment helped them move on from opioid addiction.

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How to Find Treatment+

There are several ways in NYC to find a health care provider who treats opioid addiction with buprenorphine or find a methadone treatment program. You can:

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Medication Safety+

If you take methadone or buprenorphine:

  • Take medications as they are prescribed.
  • Avoid mixing drugs. You're more likely to overdose if you combine an opioid with alcohol, cocaine, benzodiazepines or other drugs.

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Loss of Tolerance After Opioid Medication Treatment+

The risk of overdose increases when people who have stopped taking opioids return to opioid use because the body’s tolerance to opioids will be lower. Even a small amount can cause an overdose, especially now that fentanyl is increasingly mixed into drugs. The risk is even greater for people after participating in a detox program or an abstinence treatment program, or after having been hospitalized or in prison.

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Keep Others Safe+

If you take medications:

  • Keep all medications in their original containers and store them safely out of sight and reach of children.

  • Dispose of unused prescription drugs. Mix them in cat litter or coffee grounds and throw them in the trash, or ask your local pharmacy if they have a medication disposal box.

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Prevent Overdose+

Overdose is a serious health risk for people who use opioids, whether prescribed or illicit.

For information on how to prevent overdose, see our Overdose Prevention page, or download our free mobile app for smartphones, STOP OD NYC. The app provides a ready source of information, including how to recognize and reverse an overdose with naloxone, and where to get it.

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Additional Resources