Opioid Use Disorder and Available Treatment Options

As the opioid epidemic is ravaging lives across our nation, it is also gaining mainstream attention. Opioid treatment options are becoming more available. However, with all the attention directed towards the opioid epidemic comes many questions and misinformation. Families across the country wonder if their loved one suffers from opioid use disorder. Accurately identifying the signs and symptoms of opioid use disorder is imperative in choosing the right treatment.

Opiates, while highly addictive and sometimes deadly, are a necessary medication for some people. Recovering from surgical procedures or treating chronic pain? Opiates can be a beneficial and effective method of treatment. However, they must be careful with their management. Users must take them as prescribed, or dependence on these substances can quickly sneak up on the patient. Spotting the difference between safe and regulated opiate use for a necessary condition and an opioid use disorder requires education and awareness.

Opioid use disorder refers to a documented pattern of opioid use that has proven to be problematic for the patient. This disorder does not just refer to people using illicit opiates such as heroin. It may also apply to people who are using prescription painkillers.

Meeting Diagnosis Criteria for Opioid Use Disorder

There are specific criteria that a patient must meet for a valid opioid use disorder diagnosis. Physicians and treatment centers use criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This is also referred to as the DSM. The DSM is a publication provided by The American Psychiatric Association. It lays out the standardized criteria for various mental health and substance use disorders. It ensures that physicians worldwide use the same standards when diagnosing and treating addiction disorders.

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In the most recent edition, DSM designates opioid use disorder as a specialized form of substance use disorder with its own diagnosis criteria. To meet the requirements for a formal diagnosis, the patient must show that they have experienced at least two of the following symptoms within the previous 12 months. 

Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Opioids in more significant amounts than intended or over a more extended period than intended
  • Persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to control or cut down on opioid use
  • Spending a considerable amount of time in activities to get the drug, use the drug, or recover from the effects of the drug
  • Craving, characterized by a strong urge to use opioids
  • Failure to fulfill major role obligations at home, work, or school because of recurring opioid use
  • Continuing to use opioids despite having frequent social or interpersonal problems that result from the drug use (e.g., fights with family members, legal issues)
  • Giving up or reducing the frequency of important social, recreational, or occupational activities (e.g., stopping attending family activities)
  • Continuing to use opioids in situations in which it is physically hazardous (e.g., driving under the influence of opioids)
  • Continuing to use opioids despite knowing that physical or psychological problems are worse because of opioids.
  • Tolerance, defined as at least one of the following:
      • A need for markedly higher amounts of opioids to achieve the same effects as previously
      • A markedly lower effect of opioids with continued use of the same amounts of the drug
  • Withdrawal, defined as at least one of the following:
      • Opioid withdrawal syndrome includes mood changes, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, watery nose or eyes, diarrhea, dilated pupils, sweating, yawning, fever, and insomnia.
      • Continued use of opioids to alleviate or avoid withdrawal symptoms

If you can spot two or more of these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, then an opioid use disorder may be present.

Attaining a Diagnosis for Opioid Use Disorder

You know the criteria used to make a diagnosis, and you think you are spotting enough symptoms, but how do you attain a valid opioid use disorder diagnosis? Having accuracy is an important point because a correct diagnosis can lead you to the most effective treatment. Fortunately, there are many ways to attain an opioid use disorder diagnosis if you need one.

Many people turn to their general physician to diagnose and refer to substance use disorder treatment facilities. Your general physician knows your history and can see you in their office to discuss your symptoms and concerns. Most of them have various opioid treatment referral options handy for patients in need. However, it is also common that when it comes to abusing prescription painkillers, a patient’s general physician is the exact person prescribing the medications that are being abused. Thus, it is common for people suffering from opioid use disorder to have difficulties sharing accurate information with their general physicians. In such a case, relying on your general physician to spot the problem may not be successful.

Drug Treatment Programs

Many drug treatment programs across the nation can aid with diagnosis and have qualified professionals on staff to do phone and in-person diagnostic interviews. After a pre-screening phone call and answering some questions about your opiate use, such as: which substance you are using, the frequency you are using it, how long you have been using, what method of use you are engaging in, and how you are attaining your opiates, you may be able to receive enough of a diagnosis to qualify for enrollment in treatment. Once enrolled, a physician at the treatment center will oversee your case and document your diagnosis and treatment progress. They will taper your care level using the DSM criteria for your disorder.

Opioid Use Disorder Treatment Options

There are various treatment options for opioid use disorder, and a specialized physician should determine one’s needs on a case by case basis. Although rapid detox offers a nearly 100% success rate in opioid detoxification, the process is not indicated for all patients, and other medical protocols should be available. Rapid Detox is much more effective when followed by an inpatient recovery center. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment method for an opioid use disorder. So, if you seek treatment, make sure you find the option that will best fit your individual needs.