Can Doctors Use Heroin to Treat Heroin Addiction?

heroin addictionThe past 15 years have seen a sharp increase in the number of opioid-related overdose deaths in the United States. More and more doctors are turning to medication-assisted treatment in an effort to fight the epidemic. While it has proven effective thus far, some experts say doctors should take it a step further, following in Europe’s footsteps. Their treatment method promises health professionals may be able to treat heroin addiction … with heroin.

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid addiction involves prescribing a replacement drug, such as methadone. These replacement drugs activate the same receptors opioids do, but provide a long-lasting effect meant to reduce cravings and drug withdrawal symptoms.

Heron-assisted treatment (HAT) aims to accomplish a similar goal. It involves medically prescribing doses of heroin to patients in recovery. A person in treatment receives the dose on-site, in a specialized clinic, and remains under careful observation to monitor for side effects. Ultimately, the objective is to keep people in treatment and reduce overdose risk.

According to the National Institute On Drug Abuse, many people living with heroin addiction and other opioid abuse problems resist MAT. Therefore, in these cases, HAT is beneficial because it is meant to treat those severely addicted to opioids who actively resist other treatment practices.

As a result, HAT could have a significant impact on the U.S.’s opioid epidemic. Research has shown people who undergo HAT are less likely to engage in illicit drug use than those in MAT.

Unfortunately, incorporating HAT into rehab programs in the U.S. won’t be easy. Heroin is still illegal for any use that doesn’t involve research. So while all research paints HAT in a positive light, plenty of cultural and political barriers stand between Americans and treating heroin addiction with pharmaceutical heroin.

We can blame stigma for many of these barriers — looking at addiction as a choice, for example, rather than a disease. When you have a bacterial infection, for example, a doctor prescribes antibiotics. Therefore, logically, a professional should be able to prescribe medication to treat addiction. A shift in attitude toward mental health and substance abuse may be HAT’s only hope of migrating to the Americas.

Did you know an addiction can be caused by a mental disorder?

One of the primary reasons that mental disorders and substance abuse so often go hand-in-hand is that drugs and alcohol can provide an escape from the pressures of mental health problems. Self-medicating is surprisingly common: you’re not alone.

But unlike real, effective, long-term solutions, such as medication and detoxification in a treatment center, drugs and alcohol won’t amount to effective treatment.

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