The U.S. Food and Drug administration approved buprenorphine (branded drugs include Suboxone and Subutex) as heroin detox medications for the use of opioid withdrawal and as a maintenance therapy.
Learn More: Introduction to the Heroin Detox Process
How do heroin detox medications work?
In terms of the withdrawal process, these medications are regarded for their ability to suppress symptoms, including cravings. In this way, buprenorphine and its branded medications serve as a relapse prevention measure. Further, when used as a form of abstinence maintenance therapy, buprenorphine has a lower potential for abuse compared to methadone.
Some studies report one year sobriety rates for those on buprenorphine to be between 40 and 60 percent.
An opiate detox starts before heroin completely leaves the system and usually takes between 5 and 7 days. For someone who is more heavily dependent on heroin, detox may last a little longer, up to 10 days. Medical detox may use medications and therapy to help the body and brain recover from heroin’s effects.
Blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and temperature levels are all monitored to help keep individuals safe and secure throughout the entire process. Medications can be used during heroin detox to address specific symptoms as they occur.
Another medication that helps reduces the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms is clonidine, which assists in lowering blood pressure and promoting sleep. Antidepressants may also be prescribed during or after detox.
Can heroin detox medications be abused?
But buprenorphine, particularly Suboxone, is also sometimes used for a separate purpose than its intended use. Some heroin abusers purchase Suboxone on the street as part of a strategy to maintain addiction. These individuals use Suboxone to stave off painful or uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms in between heroin uses. The Suboxone often comes from individuals who have lawful prescriptions and choose to sell the pills.
Some individuals who use Suboxone between heroin doses may do so as a way of “chipping” – which is slang for using heroin recreationally without becoming clinically addicted. Chipping, by way of Suboxone use or not, is a highly dangerous behavior and can lead to physical dependence and then addiction.
Length of using heroin detox medications
The length of detox varies from person to person. Cleansing the body from heroin can happen pretty quickly. Heroin is a short-acting opioid, meaning that it takes effect rapidly but also leaves the bloodstream quickly.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that heroin withdrawal symptoms start within 6-12 hours of the last dose, peak in 2-3 days, and last 5-10 days in total.
Still, it may take a longer period for the body to get used to the absence of heroin and fully recover from protracted withdrawal symptoms (PAWS).
Detoxification can also be completed within hours if the individual is administered an opioid receptor antagonist such as naltrexone, in conjunction with anesthesia or sedation. However this method is much more expensive and can be dangerous, hence not recommended.
Read More: Heroin Detox Symptoms