For most patients who are using prescription
opioids or heroin daily,. they have to use those substances everyday,
because if they don’t use it for 12 hours, they start developing very uncomfortable withdrawal
symptoms. Those withdrawal symptoms would usually last
for about five to six days. Withdrawal symptoms often puts people into
the place where they can’t make decisions on their own, and the drug overrides their thinking, and
that’s when they go use, because it is painful to go through withdrawal,
especially if you’ve been on an opioid for a really long time. So when we see patients who are detoxified, they go to a residential program, where they
don’t have access to substances. They have two to three weeks, sometimes four
weeks of treatment. When they return home, that’s when the brain changes that still persist. Four weeks of abstinence is not enough to reverse some of those changes. Suddenly, all those learned responses will
become reactivated, the patients start having urges and cravings,
and they are very high risk of relapse and overdose. So it’s a trying time for the patient to abstain
from opiates, but it can be, with the help of medications, many patients
are able to go through this process. I think a lot of what we do as providers,
is to provide someone that support and say that, “You can do this.” But having close monitoring, having social
support, having structure is very important, because
you do need to have loved ones, and the network around you, to help reinforce
the difficulty of this, because it’s gonna be stressful to not have what you’ve been so dependent,
and reliant on, for so much of your life, available to you anymore. Thinking historically, people were coming
in and out of programs, and they didn’t have anything to help them
with their cravings. Now, there’s something that can actually help them with that, and
that’s really what medication-assisted treatment is. Buprenorphine can stop them from withdrawing,
can stop them from craving. Vivitrol can prevent them from relapsing. So there are now things, they’re out there. There are drugs out there, that can help people stay in recovery and stay abstinent.