Opioids are very strong painkillers and using them comes with various risks including accidental overdose, addiction, and a high likelihood of abuse. However, they are still a preferable option for situations where an individual is experiencing short-term, acute pain. A physician can recommend opioid painkillers to help a patient manage severe pain after a serious injury or surgical procedure for a few days. These drugs also help to treat chronic and cancer-related pain when alternative treatments fail to work for the patient.
When you have been taking opioids within a period of two weeks, it should be easy to stop taking them as soon as or even before the prescription is finished. If you are not sure, you can ask your physician when it is safe to stop taking the drugs.
For individuals who have been taking opioid medications for longer than two weeks, it may be advisable to stop taking them as soon as possible to avoid any severe consequences. Indications that you need to stop using opioids include side effects such as concerns of addiction or abuse and reduced pain relief over time from the same dose. This is also known as tolerance.
Opioid withdrawal can be life-threatening and very uncomfortable for the people experiencing them. The timeline for this usually ranges from days to weeks depending on the drug used, the duration of use, and any other drug combinations used. The best way to make it through opioid withdrawal is through medically supervised detoxification which ensures you go through the process as comfortably and safely as possible.
It is not advisable to stop taking opioids completely on your own since opioid withdrawal symptoms can be severe and even dangerous.
One alternative for detoxing from opioids is through tapering or a medical withdrawal plan. This includes gradually reducing the dose taken until the individual is off opioids completely or on alternative opioid maintenance drugs such as methadone or buprenorphine. Users can opt to taper off opioids if they are going through medically supervised detox under the care of a qualified physician. This offers the advantage of emotional support and round-the-clock care from qualified professionals.
When you are ready to reduce your opioid use, you can ask your physician to develop a tapering plan to help you gradually reduce your dosage intake. It can take weeks or months to gradually reduce your dose of opioid medication and get off it completely. It will depend on the amount and type of drug you have been taking.
Getting off opioids can be very challenging but it is possible. Your chances of success are much higher when you have a reliable healthcare team on your side. They can help you manage a tapering schedule, deal with opioid withdrawal symptoms, and develop alternative pain management methods.
How to Safely Taper Off of Opioids
The appropriate tapering duration for opioids will depend on the specific medication taken and it will vary from person to person. Your physician can recommend an opioid tapering schedule that reduces your health risk while taking care of your medical needs.
During an opioid taper, the physician will:
- Observe your temperature, blood pressure, and pulse regularly
- Take blood or urine samples to check for the amount and type of substances and/or medications in your system
- Request your permission to talk to your family members, pharmacist, or other healthcare providers to get any information relevant to your medication taper.
- Provide other pain therapies as needed
- Prescribe medication to help you manage opioid withdrawal symptoms such as mood, appetite, and sleep disturbances
It is important to follow the tapering plan strictly as recommended and follow any instructions given by the doctor closely. Even though you may want to speed up the withdrawal process, your body still needs time to get used to the reduced opioid levels. Following the tapering plan step-by-step helps everything go smoothly while easing any discomfort you may experience during the process.
The patient may be tempted to increase their medication during the taper. However, it is never advisable to supplement the drugs used in the taper with street drugs, alcohol, emergency room visits, or other drugs at home.
Medication-assisted treatment can also help individuals with their cravings during opioid withdrawal. Drugs like methadone and buprenorphine are typically used to help patients deal with cravings and manage opioid withdrawal symptoms.
Buprenorphine is beneficial for helping individuals taper off opioid drugs and together with methadone, they can be prescribed for extended periods to control cravings. These two medications can also help patients maintain their abstinence from opioid drugs whether prescription or illegal. They also help to reduce the likelihood of overdose.
Other drugs provided to help with opioid withdrawal symptoms include Loperamide for diarrhea and Clonidine which helps with anxiety. Naltrexone is typically given to patients undergoing opioid withdrawal and rehab treatment to prevent relapse. However, this medication can also cause severe sudden withdrawal if it is administered while there are still opioids in the user’s system.
Individuals should note that opioid detoxification and prescription of medications to treat opioid addiction are just part of long-term recovery. Aside from this, patients also need to employ therapy and counseling as essential elements in treating opioid addiction. Medication is not the only treatment. People who are undergoing opioid detoxification and withdrawal should also be monitored for co-occurring mental illnesses such as depression. Treating these conditions as well greatly reduces the likelihood of relapse by administering relevant medications as needed.
At rehab centers, individuals can go through medically-supervised detox under the care of qualified staff who can help with the opioid withdrawal process. These facilities also provide additional treatment methods such as aftercare, therapy, and counseling all designed to help patients maintain long-term abstinence from opioid drugs.