Withdrawal from Opiates

Opiate withdrawal, by contrast with withdrawal from sedative-hypnotics, may be intensely uncomfortable but for most adults (with the important exceptions of adults with little reserve, such as those with advanced AIDS, and newborn infants) it is not usually life-threatening. Nevertheless, easing symptoms can be an important part of the process of engaging an individual in treatment for their opiate addiction and to facilitate other medical treatment.

The time to onset of withdrawal symptoms depends on the duration of action of the opiate. Symptoms typically begin 6-24 h after the last dose of a short-acting agent such as heroin but 48-72 h after longer-acting opiates like methadone. The administration of an opiate antagonist (e.g., naloxone) can precipitate severe withdrawal symptoms, including: dysphoria, nausea and vomiting, muscle aches, lacrimation or rhinorrhea, dilated pupils, piloerection, diarrhea, diaphoresis, yawning, fever, and insomnia.

Methadone is approved by the FDA for the treatment of opiate withdrawal. Regulations for its use differ between states but they typically allow its use for inpatient detoxication and methadone maintenance. Its use in an outpatient setting for the management of opiate withdrawal is not permitted except as part of a licensed methadone maintenance treatment program.

Oral methadone has a long duration of action. The initial dose of 15-20 mg is given when signs of opiate withdrawal (not simply reports of drug craving) are evident. An additional 5-10 mg may be given 1-2 h later if symptoms persist or worsen. A dose of 40 mg/day usually controls signs of withdrawal well (note that the dose for the different indication of long-term methadone maintenance may often be higher). When oral administration is impossible due to withdrawal symptoms, methadone 5 mg may be administered as an intramuscular injection. Having reached a dose that relieves withdrawal symptoms, the daily dose can be tapered by a gradual 10-20% for full detoxication.

A newly available option for treatment of opioid withdrawal is the schedule III opioid partial agonist buprenor-phine, which is now available for use in office-based practice by any physician who has taken a brief training and certification. Although the use of schedule II drugs such as methadone for the treatment of opiate dependence is restricted to hospitals or specially licensed clinics (leading to a shortage of facilities where opiate-dependent individuals can receive appropriate treatment), the Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000 introduced less stringent regulations, allowing the use of narcotic drugs for the treatment of addiction in the office or any other health-care setting by any licensed physician who has taken a brief training course and obtained registration, thereby increasing access to treatment. Two new formulations of buprenorphine (Subutex and Suboxone sublingual tablets) were the first products to be approved by the FDA under this Act for the treatment of opioid dependence. Subutex contains only buprenorphine in doses of 2-8 mg; Suboxone also contains the opioid antagonist naloxone (0.5 and 2mg respectively); the purpose of the naloxone is to discourage diversion of the medication for abuse intravenously (crushing the pills and injecting them), since naloxone is poorly absorbed after oral or sublingual administration, but if injected it would produce precipitated withdrawal.

Buprenorphine is an excellent detoxification agent because of its long duration of action owing to very high affinity for and very slow dissociation from opioid receptors. Starting buprenorphine must be done carefully, because of the partial agonism. If administered too close in time to the last dose of a full agonist such as heroin, buprenorphine will precipitate withdrawal, and the withdrawal produced can be atypical and in rare cases has been observed to include delirium. Precipitated withdrawal is more likely among patients dependent on long-acting agonists (e.g., methadone) or high daily doses of a shorter-acting agonist such as heroin. Thus, when starting buprenorphine, the clinician should wait for symptoms of opioid withdrawal to begin to appear before giving the first dose of buprenorphine, which should be a test dose of 2 mg [Subutex 2 mg, or Suboxone (2 mg buprenorphine/0.5 mg naloxone)]. If this dose is well tolerated, administer another 2 mg 1 h later, and up to 8 mg total on the first day, and up to 16 mg on the second day. After this, buprenorphine can be tapered slowly to zero over 10 days to 2 weeks. Considerable flexibility in the taper schedule is possible, including a much faster taper, since the slow dissociation from receptors in itself effectively produces a taper. However, clinicians should also be alert for the emergence of low-grade withdrawal symptoms (fatigue, anxiety, mild flu-like physical symptoms) in the weeks after discontinuing buprenorphine. This subacute or protracted withdrawal can be observed from any opioid drug but can seem surprising with buprenorphine because the taper phase of a buprenorphine detoxification is usually comfortable and uneventful.

If one of the first few doses of buprenorphine administered is followed by a rapid worsening of withdrawal symptoms, this is precipitated withdrawal, and no further buprenorphine should be given; at this point it is probably best to treat with a full agonist (methadone), although one could also wait for precipitated withdrawal to clear and full-blown opiate withdrawal (from whatever the patient was addicted to) to emerge, after which one can try again beginning with a test dose of 2 mg buprenorphine.

A number of nonnarcotic medications are useful in treating the symptoms of opiate withdrawal. These include the a-adrenergic receptor agonist and antihypertensive clonidine, which is particularly helpful with the autonomic symptoms of withdrawal as well as the anxiety, benzodiazepines (clonazepam is typically used), which are particularly helpful for anxiety and insomnia, antiemetics, and NSAIDs for muscle aches (oral agents such as ibuprofen, or toradol which can be given parenterally). Although with clonidine alone the autonomic symptoms may be well controlled, patients often complain of greater subjective distress with clonidine than with an agonist such as methadone or buprenorphine.

Clonidine is used to assist detoxication in individuals using illegal opiates in circmstances where methadone is not permitted (e.g., outpatient settings) and to relieve abstinence symptoms in a patient stopping methadone maintenance. In clonidine-assisted detoxication, the main side effects are hypotension, which may cause doses to be withheld or treatment discontinued, and sedation. Hypotension may be worsened by diarrhea or vomiting, which are common in opiate withdrawal. Patients should be encouraged to take plenty of fluids, and sports drinks such as Gatorade are particularly helpful because they also supply electrolytes. Because cloni-dine by itself does not treat all aspects of withdrawal, cloni-dine is most effective in combination with the other agents mentioned above. A protocol for clonidine-assisted detoxica-tion is given in Table 8-3.

A combination of clonidine with naltrexone has been used to achieve a more rapid withdrawal followed by maintenance with naltrexone. This strategy requires close monitoring of the patient and an experienced clinician to titrate the dose of clonidine against naltrexone-induced withdrawal symptoms. The acceptability of maintenance therapy with naltrexone to opiate addicts is disappointing.

With opiate detoxification, it is particularly important to consider the indications for it, and to establish an adequate treatment plan after detoxification is completed. Chronic opioid use induces tolerance, and detoxification reduces or eliminates tolerance. Because of the loss of tolerance,

■ TABLE 8-3. Clonidine Detoxification

DAY

SHORT-ACTING OPIATE*

LONG-ACTING OPIATE1

Day 1

0.1 mg q4h

0.1 mg q4h

Days 2-4

0.1-0.2 mg q4h (depending

0.1-0.2 mg q4h (depending

on symptoms)

on symptoms)

Days 5-10

Reduce daily dose by

Maintain on 0.4-1.2 mg/d

0.2-0.4 mg/d

Day 11

Reduce daily dose by

0.2-0.4 mg/d

Adjunctive medication: oxazepam (in limited supplies) for sleep or agitation; ibuprofen or toradol for muscle or bone pain; bismuth subsalicylate for diarrhea; prochlorperazine or odansetron for nausea.

Adjunctive medication: oxazepam (in limited supplies) for sleep or agitation; ibuprofen or toradol for muscle or bone pain; bismuth subsalicylate for diarrhea; prochlorperazine or odansetron for nausea.

* For example, heroin. f For example, methadone.

From Selzer J (2000). Drugs for Treating Substance Abuse. In Psychiatric Drugs, Lieberman JA and Tasman A (eds.) WB Saunders, pp. 214-241. © 2000, with permission from Elsevier.

detoxified opiate addicts are at increased risk of death from opiate overdose; doses that they routinely self-administered previously when tolerant could now be lethal, a problem exacerbated by the variable and sometimes high potency of illicit heroin. In general, the risk of relapse following opioid detoxification is high. Therefore, patients should be assessed for overdose risk, and those with a history of past overdoses, or with multiple past relapses, should be encouraged to take agonist maintenance treatment, with methadone or buprenorphine, rather than undergoing detoxification. For those not entering agonist maintenance, a strong plan for psychosocial treatment is important, for example long-term residential treatment or therapeutic community, a good outpatient treatment program, supplemented by a self-help group (Alcoholics Anonymous, or Narcotics Anonymous).

Drug Addiction Report

Drug Addiction Report

You're going to discover so many things on addiction with little effort Not only will you discover the thrill of breaking free from your addiction, but you'll also learn extra bonus tips to actually help other people This new breakthrough book is a guide, really. A guide as a result of years of searching, studying, and scouring hundreds of websites, stores, and magazines.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment