Learning The Jargon of Opioid Addiction Treatment

June 1, 2019

Awareness and education about the opioid epidemic is only useful if people understand what the terminology means. The message about the importance of treatment to help overcome substance use is usually filled with medical jargon. Even if people want to support the prevention and recovery efforts, they may get tangled up in the technical terms. UCS Healthcare wants to encourage the discussion of substance use disorder, opioid addiction and medication assisted treatment, so follow along as we explain some of the terminology we use daily and what it means.

Top 10 Terms of the Opioid Epidemic You Should Know

1. Opioid

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First, let’s cover what an opioid is and why we’re seeing a huge increase in use. “Opioid” is a broad term used to classify a category of drugs that typically relax the body and relieve pain, which includes heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and many others. Some opioids grow naturally from plants while others are created in labs by scientists. Many opioids are legal and are prescribed under a physician’s direction and care, typically for pain management. Many people become addicted to opioids because they are prescribed to use them for pain relief. Then when a physician will no longer prescribe the opioid, the person may turn to other sources to obtain the drugs. Opioids can have addictive qualities that can lead to serious drug use disorders.

USC Healthcare does not judge anyone’s story about how or why they started using opioids; we respect patients who recognize they have a problem and want to work to fix it. Our goal is to see every patient recover from their substance use disorder and move forward by living life in recovery.

2. Substance Use Disorder

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According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “substance use disorders occur when the recurrent use of alcohol and/or drugs causes clinically significant impairment, including health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home.”

The term substance use disorder was released fairly recently in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a manual used by clinicians to evaluate and diagnose mental health conditions. Previous versions of the DSM handbook identified substance disorders into two separate categories: “substance abuse” and “substance dependence.” Many people like to use the term “substance use disorder” because “dependence” could be misleading and misdiagnosed, while many individuals found the “abuse” term to have a negative stigma. For these reasons, UCS Healthcare uses the term substance use disorder to reduce stigma and to be considerate of our patients seeking treatment.

There are 11 diagnostic criteria used to determine the severity of a substance use disorder. The National Institute of Drug Abuse provides a list of the traits which indicate an individual may need treatment:

  1. Taking in larger amounts of the substance or using it over a longer period than they intended.
  2. Having a persistent desire or being unsuccessful in their efforts to reduce or control the substance use.
  3. Spending a lot of time doing activities necessary to obtain the substance, using the substance or recovering from its effects.
  4. Craving, or having a strong desire or urge, to use the substance.
  5. Recurrent use of the substance results in failing to fulfill major role obligations at work, school or home.
  6. Use of the substance continues despite the individual having continuous social or interpersonal problems caused or intensified by the effects of its use.
  7. Giving up or reducing the amount of time spent on important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of substance use.
  8. Repeatedly using the substance in situations where it could physically harm them.
  9. Continuing to use the substance despite knowing they have a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or aggravated by the substance.
  10. Their tolerance is affected by:
    • Needing notable increased amounts of the substance to achieve intoxication or desired effect.
    • Being less affected by the continued use of the same amount of the substance.
  11. Going through withdrawal symptoms:
    • Having the characteristic withdrawal syndrome for that specific substance (specified in the DSM-5 for each substance).
    • Using another substance (or a closely related substance) to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Now that these terms are combined, there are different categories to describe the severity of someone’s substance use disorder, based on the number of criteria a person meets.

  • Mild - 2 or 3 criteria met
  • Moderate - 4 or 5 criteria met
  • Severe - 6 or more criteria met

What’s the difference between substance use disorder and substance addiction?

Addiction involves the most severe cases of substance use disorder. Substanceabuse.gov says, “Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain. It is considered both a complex brain disorder and a mental illness.” Often, it involves cycles of relapse and remission, but there are substance and opioid addiction treatment options available. UCS Healthcare has outpatient treatment for substance use disorders and a variety of group therapy sessions to help individuals move forward from their substance use disorder. We offer a multitude of therapy options, both individual and group sessions, to create a recovery plan that is individualized and patient-centered.

3. Co-Occurring Disorder

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The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says about 50% of individuals with substance use disorders are also affected by a mental illness, which means they have co-occurring disorders. Officially, co-occurring disorder is a condition in which someone has been diagnosed with two or more disorders.

No matter what type of problem our clients come to us with, UCS Healthcare will always screen incoming patients for mental health concerns and other chronic illnesses when they participate in the original intake assessment. If the patient meets the criteria for a mental health disorder, they are referred to one of our Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHC) for further screening. In our Des Moines office, patients can also be referred to our medical practice, our psychiatric team or our psychologist for other medical or medication issues. Our medical team then sets up a custom plan that treats the whole person, not just one aspect of their health history. Co-occurring disorder patients typically follow an integrated treatment plan designed specifically to educate the individual on both substance use disorders and mental health issues.

4. Integrated Treatment

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This type of treatment plan involves one provider treating an individual for mental health and substance use disorder and is central to the UCS Healthcare mission. We believe integrated medicine treatment effectively combats co-occurring disorders because it helps patients understand the causes that have contributed to their substance use disorder and move forward.

One of the integrated medicine approaches UCS suggests to treat co-occurring disorders is our medication assisted treatment programs. Combining integrated medicine with therapy or counseling has been proven to be very effective for these types of disorders.

5. Medication Assisted Treatment

Medication Assisted Treatment

These individualized treatment programs offer a combination of medication and counseling to help patients recover from substance use disorder without withdrawal symptoms. Medication assisted treatment (MAT) is a specialized program that uses prescription drugs to fight the withdrawal symptoms patients would typically experience during detox. This provides a reduction of withdrawal symptoms and immediately starts the process of rebuilding their lives. Research has proven medication assisted treatment to be one of the most effective ways to fight the opioid epidemic and alcohol withdrawals while encouraging individuals to restart their lives after a substance use disorder. If you know someone struggling with opioids and looking for opioid addiction treatment, MAT is an available option for recovery once they’ve completed an assessment which deems them dependent.

Why is it called medication assisted treatment instead of just medication?

The medication used to reverse the withdrawal symptoms is dispensed in conjunction with therapy. The MAT patients need to come to the locations that offer medication assisted treatment to participate in therapy and obtain the medication, which is monitored and distributed under secure conditions. MAT is a treatment program, not just medicine.

At UCS Healthcare, our medication assisted treatment program is tailored to each patient we see. Our team believes there is no set solution to the recovery process, and individuals dealing with substance use disorders could be facing a number of medical, physiatrics, social and environmental problems we need to address. You can trust our certified professionals to provide individualized care in every recovery situation.

6. Medication Unit

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A medication unit is the technical term for a medication distribution location that is embedded within an existing substance use disorder treatment center. Their goal is to provide the necessary medication doses to our medication assisted treatment (MAT) patients. Typically, the most common drugs prescribed to MAT patients are Methadone or Suboxone, which help with opioid addiction treatment. We’ll cover more about these drugs below and explain why they’re effective during treatment.

UCS Healthcare became interested in establishing certified medication units because we saw a need to fight the opioid epidemic that was becoming more prominent across the state of Iowa. Our team began the long and extensive process to open the first licensed medication unit in Iowa and one of the first across the United States. We are continuing to add medication units in partnership with behavioral health centers.

Before more of these medication units opened up around the state, there were huge barriers to receiving medication assisted treatment, including 2+ hour round-trip drives to Des Moines from smaller cities around Iowa. UCS is proud to be a part of the process of addressing the opioid epidemic and making MAT accessible to so many more people. Now, UCS Healthcare has multiple medication unit locations across the state of Iowa that offer various opioid addiction treatment options to recovery patients.

7. Walk-In Assessment

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When a person has made the decision to seek treatment, they likely have waited a long time before seeking help or have experienced a critical incident. Many clinics may have wait times of days or weeks to be assessed and start treatment. When someone is ready to seek recovery, they usually don’t have weeks to wait, and the longer they push off the recovery process, the more likely they’ll be to fall back into unhealthy patterns of drug use. UCS helps people start recovery on their time, and walk-in assessments help start that medication assisted treatment process as quickly as possible. Check our UCS locations in Des Moines, Ankeny and Knoxville for specific walk-in assessment hours.

What drugs are used for opioid addiction treatment?

Our mission at UCS Healthcare is to assist anyone with a substance use disorder who is ready to recover and move forward with their lives. We help people with their journey to recovery by using a variety of medications that either mimic or block the effects of opioids, depending on what the best medication assisted treatment plan is for that patient. Let’s talk a little more about each type of drug that’s used for opioid addiction treatments.

8. Methadone

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Methadone is a synthetic, narcotic analgesic drug (or painkiller) used in medication assisted treatment plans. It is a very effective drug to help patients focus on recovery because it is an opioid agonist. This means it activates the opioid receptors in the brain, decreasing withdrawal symptoms without causing euphoria.

Medication assisted treatment processes commonly use Methadone because it mitigates withdrawal symptoms so patients can be present enough to make progress in therapy. At UCS Healthcare, we offer Methadone in a liquid cherry form similar to cough medicine to help our MAT patients focus on the positive steps to recovery.

9. Suboxone

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Patients in the medication assisted treatment program at UCS Healthcare also have the option of using Suboxone to treat their opioid use disorder. Administered in a film form under the tongue or inside the cheek, Suboxone is a combination of two different substances: Buprenorphine (a partial opioid agonist) and Naloxone (a pure opioid antagonist). The job of the Buprenorphine gives patients the effects of an opioid at a much weaker dose. Over time, this should wean them off the opioid effect without the presence of the withdrawal symptoms. Since Buprenorphine is only a partial opioid agonist, it carries a much lower risk of misuse and addiction, but patients should still be careful with their medication.

10. Naloxone

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Naloxone is a drug approved by the FDA which is used to block the toxic effects of opioids during an overdose. Narcan is a well-known brand name of Naloxone and can be used to revive someone who overdoses on opioids. However, this drug cannot be considered a long-term solution to overcoming an addiction to opioids like medication assisted treatments. Naloxone and Narcan are not a treatment plan, but they can temporarily block the effects of opioids until the person that overdosed can get help from medical personnel.

UCS Healthcare advocates for the awareness and education related to Naloxone and Narcan, so that loved ones are prepared in the event of an overdose. With the opioid epidemic on the rise, Naloxone has become more readily available to the public. We believe if families and friends suspect someone they care about is using opioids, they should have a Narcan nasal spray kit on hand in case of an emergency.

Visit UCS Healthcare to Get Started With Medication Assisted Treatment

We have medication units located across the state of Iowa to help individuals recover from opioid use disorder. Along with MAT services, we offer a wide variety of physical, medical and mental health treatment options. Our first priority is your total health. Contact us if you’d like to learn more about our services or find a location near you to get started with recovery today.