What Medications Are Used to Treat Heroin Withdrawal?

medications for heroin withdrawal

Heroin is a potent illicit opioid that can lead to addiction after only a few uses. Most people who abuse heroin inject it intravenously, however, it can also be smoked and snorted.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), about 1.1 million people reported abusing heroin in 2021.[1]

Once you become addicted to heroin, your brain and body begin to rely on it to function properly. Unfortunately, this means if you suddenly stop using it, you will experience withdrawal symptoms. While heroin withdrawal is usually not life-threatening, it can be impossible to cope with without medical assistance.

The safest way to detox from heroin is to attend a medical detox program. These programs will prescribe medications like Suboxone, methadone, Lucemyra, and clonidine to limit the symptoms you experience, keeping you safe and comfortable throughout the withdrawal process.

What are the Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal?

If you are attempting to overcome heroin withdrawal on your own, the symptoms could become so severe that you return to heroin abuse to experience relief.

Symptoms of heroin withdrawal may include:[2]

  • Agitation and anxiety
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Increased tearing and runny nose
  • Insomnia
  • Excessive sweating
  • Increased yawning
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Goosebumps and shivering
  • Nausea and vomiting

While heroin withdrawal is not considered life-threatening, symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea can lead to severe dehydration without proper treatment. Severe dehydration can even become fatal.

What Medications Are Used to Treat Heroin Withdrawal?

To ensure that your symptoms do not become severe, medical detox centers will use FDA-approved medications that limit the severity of withdrawal, helping you remain comfortable and medically stable.

Medications that are commonly used to treat heroin withdrawal:

Suboxone

Suboxone is a medication that is approved by the FDA to treat opioid use disorder. It contains two active ingredients: buprenorphine and naloxone.[3]

While buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, naloxone is an opioid antagonist. Buprenorphine limits your symptoms of withdrawal by activating the opioid receptors in your brain while naloxone prevents other opioids from being effective if you end up relapsing.

Suboxone is a daily medication that comes in the form of a sublingual film. When you are prescribed Suboxone, your dose will be slowly tapered until you no longer need it.

Methadone

Methadone is another medication approved by the FDA to treat opioid withdrawal, however, Suboxone tends to be favored over this option.[4] Since methadone is a full opioid agonist, it can cause a “high” feeling, making it more likely to be abused than Suboxone.

With that being said, methadone is only dispensed by licensed health professionals one dose at a time. As a result, abusing methadone is nearly impossible if you are receiving it from a medical detox program.

Methadone typically comes in the form of a tablet or wafer that dissolves into a liquid solution. When you are taking methadone, you will be given a dose based on how much heroin you used in the past. Eventually, your dose of methadone will be tapered down until you are no longer taking it to ensure that dependency does not develop and you only consume it as long as it is necessary.

Lucemyra

One of the newest medications for heroin withdrawal is called Lucemyra (lofexidine). As an alternative to opioid medications, Lucemyra has the least amount of risk when it comes to abuse or dependency.

Instead of attaching to opioid receptors, Lucemyra works to limit heroin withdrawal symptoms by reducing the release of norepinephrine.[5] However, it is important to note that you will still experience some withdrawal symptoms while taking Lucemyra. Your doctor will assess you to determine whether Lucemyra is the right medication for your needs.

Clonidine

Lastly, clonidine is another medication commonly used to reduce the symptoms of heroin withdrawal. While clonidine is effective in controlling heroin withdrawal symptoms, it is not approved by the FDA for this use and is used on an off-label basis.

With that being said, clonidine can be incredibly useful for heroin withdrawal. As an antihypertensive medication, it can rapidly suppress the excitatory symptoms of heroin withdrawal, such as anxiety and restless legs.[6]

Find Help for Heroin Withdrawal

If you or a loved one suffers from heroin addiction, it’s time to seek help. Flourishing Foundations Recovery offers a dignified and comfortable option for medical detox treatment. By allowing you to detox on an outpatient basis, you can recover in the comfort of your own while still receiving the medical guidance you need to detox safely.

To learn more about our outpatient heroin detox center, contact us today.

References:

  1. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): What is the scope of heroin use in the United States, Retrieved November 2023 From https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/scope-heroin-use-in-united-states
  2. Medline Plus: Opiate and opioid withdrawal, Retrieved November 2023 From https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000949.htm
  3. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Suboxone label, Retrieved November 2023 From https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2021/022410s042lbl.pdf
  4. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Dolophine label, Retrieved November 2023 From https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2018/006134s045lbl.pdf
  5. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA): FDA approves the first non-opioid treatment for management of opioid withdrawal symptoms in adults, Retrieved November 2023 From https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-first-non-opioid-treatment-management-opioid-withdrawal-symptoms-adults
  6. The National Library of Medicine (NLM): The use of clonidine in detoxification from opiates, Retrieved November 2023 From https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6907020/