Complications of Meth and Heroin Use in Treatment


Almost 22 people out of every 100,000 died of a drug overdose in 2017, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s 22 too many, especially considering that addiction is a manageable disease. However, a University of Washington Health Sciences clinician, Judith Tsui recognized that a polydrug addiction was obstructing her treatment efforts. She began to question whether there are complications of meth and heroin use in treatment.

This information is critical because the rates of overdose on these substances are substantial. In 2017, a whopping 47,600 men and women died of an opioid overdose. Another 10,333 died of a psychostimulant overdose. Overall, about 5,000 died of an overdose of a combination of opioids and psychostimulants, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

A common example of psychostimulants and opioids is meth and heroin. Evidence has proven that treatment can lead to recovery of each addiction. In fact, “policymakers and healthcare system leaders. . .are beginning to embrace recovery as an organizing framework for approaching addiction as a chronic disorder from which individuals can recover,” said the surgeon general’s report.

“So long,” it continues, “as they have access to evidence-based treatments and responsive long-term supports.” Although addictions to each of these substances are manageable, there are often complications of meth and heroin use in treatment. In other words, a polydrug addiction to meth and heroin can make recovery harder.

What Does This Mean for People Addicted to Meth and Heroin?

Tsui and her colleagues needed to know more about this. They were concerned about the number of patients dropping out of treatment after she gave them buprenorphine. She was using buprenorphine to treat their opioid addiction, but it didn’t help their meth addiction.

She and her colleagues conducted a large study of 799 people. As a result, it produced the same conclusion. Tsui explained, “Methamphetamine use was associated with more than twice the risk for dropping out of treatment for opioid-use disorder.” Accordingly, it’s critical to treat patients for both addictions for successful recovery. Tsui agrees.

“The next step is to build into treatment models how we can help those patients who struggle both with opioids and methamphetamines to be successful,” she said. This is especially important because police offices in the West Central regions of the U.S. have reported that meth is making a comeback in their areas.

Although it’s hard to understand why, it’s harder for patients to overcome a polydrug-use disorder. Tsui surmises that they perceive it as a necessity. “A substantial proportion of these patients are homeless and may use meth to stay awake at night just to stay safe and keep an eye on their belongings,” Tsui noted.

Is Recovery from Meth and Opioid Use Impossible?

Although clinicians need to conduct more studies, Tsui and her team suspect that the answer is in the use of buprenorphine for opioid addiction. In fact, they’re interested in learning more about how to approach treating an addiction to methamphetamine and opioids.

However, that doesn’t make recovery from a meth and opioid addiction impossible. In other words, you can receive effective treatment for this polydrug addiction today. Choose a reputable substance abuse treatment center.

While buprenorphine is an evidence-based medicine for heroin addiction, no similar medicines exist for meth addiction. That’s because clinicians haven’t been able to develop one yet. Consequently, it can be more difficult to remain in treatment for patients addicted to meth and opioids.

Addiction doctors can treat the symptoms of meth abuse, withdrawal, and recovery with what’s available now. With NIDA funding research into this very subject, pharmaceutical solutions are imminent for meth addiction.

For example: clinicians are studying the following:

  • Ibudilast and Minocycline: Inflammation of the nervous system, which occurs with heavy meth use
  • Antidepressants: Withdrawal symptoms
  • Antipsychotics: Improve overall effects of long-term meth use
  • Naltrexone and Buprenorphine: Reduce the euphoric effects of meth
  • Hormones (Cholecystokinin-8 and Oxytocin): Reduce the euphoric effects of meth
  • More

Clinicians are also studying alternative non-pharmaceutical treatment for meth abuse:

  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation: NIDA describes this method as a non-invasive way of “stimulating the brain using magnetic pulses.”
  • Neurofeedback: Teaches people how to manage their own brain function.
  • Vaccines and Antibodies: These cutting-edge methods engage the immune system. Together, they keep the drug from entering the brain.

Meanwhile, addiction professionals have helped countless people overcome the disease without these methods.

How Can People Using Meth and Heroin Stop?

People with polydrug addictions may find recovery more difficult than those with one. But that doesn’t mean it’s hopeless. In fact, there are many people who were addicted to both with success stories today. That means that with qualified and experienced treatment, you can overcome any addiction.

According to NIDA, a qualified treatment program for a meth and heroin addiction must include the following:

  • Medical Detoxification
  • Individualized Treatment Plan: “Treatment varies depending on the type of drug and characteristics of the patients,” says NIDA.
  • Must Address All Aspects of the Person: Treatment must also address “medical, psychological, social, vocational, and legal problems,” according to NIDA. It must also be appropriate for his or her “age, gender, ethnicity, and culture.”
  • An Adequate Time in Treatment: NIDA has found that most people with addictions need at least 90 days of treatment. Many need much more. They explain, “Recovery from drug addiction is a long-term process and frequently requires multiple episodes of treatment.” They also suggest that successful treatment plans for those with meth and heroin addictions “include strategies to engage and keep patients in treatment.”
  • Behavioral therapies: As a mental health disease, these therapies are effective in healing the disruptions polydrug use caused in the brain.
  • Aftercare Plan: Therapists should help their patients carefully develop an aftercare plan to further their abstinence from drugs and alcohol.

You don’t have to “feel ready” to overcome a meth and heroin addiction. Treatment helps you overcome the denial that hinders that feeling. In fact, getting help before you’re ready, may head off any serious consequences you may otherwise experience.


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