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Prescription Opioid Detox

When you take prescription opioid drugs for an extended time, you may form an opioid dependence or opioid use disorder (addiction), which leads to withdrawal symptoms. Detox allows you to undergo withdrawal from prescription opioids safely. Prescription opioids are powerful and highly addictive, whether medically directed or taken recreationally.

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What Is Prescription Opioid Detox?

Detox, or detoxification, from prescription opioids, is the body’s process of removing these substances from your system.

Prescription opioid detox is essential for people undergoing substance abuse treatment. Drug detox is typically the first step in recovery from opioid abuse.

‘Detox’ can also refer to the programs which treat withdrawal symptoms due to a physical dependence on opioids.

Prescription opioid detox programs can provide medical supervision, medications for symptoms of opioid withdrawal, mental health care, and referrals for follow-up care. You should always detox off opioids under medical supervision since opiate withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous. A medical detox program is the safest way to withdraw from prescription opioid drug abuse or general use of opioids.

Addiction treatment programs often offer detox as part of a larger treatment plan to address prescription opioid drug use and other substance use disorders.

Why Do You Need to Detox From Prescription Opioids?

Even when taken as medically directed, opioid analgesics can be addictive, especially if taken longer than 14 days.

In fact, opioids quickly lead to opiate dependence, which can trigger opioid withdrawal syndrome when a person stops using opioids. Detox will address opiate withdrawal.

Here’s how opioid dependence occurs when you take opioid agonist medications:

  1. The drug attaches itself to the opioid receptors, triggering a dopamine release into the body.
  2. You no longer feel pain but experience intense feelings of pleasure or euphoria (the ‘high’).
  3. Over time, your brain and body become reliant on this extra dopamine.
  4. The body and brain believe they need these extra dopamine boosts to feel normal.
  5. As the brain and body become more dependent on the extra dopamine, they rebel when the opioid leaves the system, which is known as withdrawal.

Experiencing withdrawals with discontinuing opioids is a sign you might be battling prescription opioid addiction.

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Is It Safe to Detox From Prescription Opioids at Home?

Detoxing from opioids can have life-threatening side effects, so doctors never recommend at-home detox for people facing opioid addiction.

For some people who do not have a prescription opioid addiction but want to stop using opioids, at-home detox may be an option. However, always seek medical advice before making a decision.

Your healthcare provider may cut back on prescribing opioids to help you taper off the medication and may be able to recommend other treatments for your chronic pain.

Finding alternative chronic pain treatment methods is important since pain management usually prompts opioid use.

Always discuss your prescription opioid detox options with your doctor before deciding.

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What Happens During Prescription Opioid Detox?

During prescription opioid detox, you can access medical care and support while you undergo the worst of withdrawal symptoms.

This support can include receiving medications to treat withdrawal symptoms, like muscle aches, nausea, and cravings, as well as treatment for the side effects of withdrawal.

Withdrawal from prescription opioids like hydrocodone (Vicodin) or oxycodone (OxyContin) can lead to side effects like runny nose, increased heart rate, and lowered breathing, among others.

Medications and medical care practices can help keep you safe while you experience opioid withdrawal syndrome, which is the goal of detox.

Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms

Detox involves experiencing several withdrawal symptoms with severity ranging from mild to extreme.

How quickly you experience prescription opioid withdrawal symptoms (and how long they last) will depend on several factors. These include the type of opioid you have been taking, how long you have been taking it and the dosage.

With short-acting opioids, such as fentanyl, you may experience withdrawal symptoms as soon as eight hours after the last dose, and the symptoms can last for 7 to 10 days.

With longer-acting opioids such as oxycodone (OxyContin) and codeine, symptoms may appear within the first 36 hours and last 14 days or longer.

Some common prescription opioid withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Changes in body temperature
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Insomnia
  • Severe mood changes such as anxiety and depression
  • Intense cravings
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Sweating
  • Cramping
  • Dilated pupils

Prescription Opioid Tapering

For people with prescription opiate dependence, weaning off the medication slowly is important. Quitting cold turkey, or all at once, could cause severe symptoms and often prompt relapse to drug use.

For this reason, health professionals will likely taper you off the medication on a schedule set to your individual needs.

This schedule will depend on several factors, such as:

  • The type of opioid you have been using
  • How long you’ve been using prescription opioids
  • The amount of prescription drugs you have been using
  • If you have been taking other drugs with the opioids

Prescriptions and Other Medications

You may need a prescription or over-the-counter medications to treat certain symptoms of opiate withdrawal.

FDA-approved medications for opioid withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Buprenorphine (Suboxone): for managing cravings and helping prevent relapse
  • Naltrexone (Vivitrol): for managing cravings and helping prevent relapse
  • Methadone (Methadose): for managing cravings and helping prevent relapse
  • Lofexidine (Lucemyra): for managing cravings and treating withdrawal symptoms
  • Clonidine (Catapres): controls symptoms of hypertension, like sweating and anxiety
  • Non-opioid pain relievers: for treating muscle pain, like ibuprofen
  • Benzodiazepines: used to treat symptoms of anxiety
  • Loperamide (Imodium): treats diarrhea that often comes with opioid use
  • Promethazine (Phenergan): treats nausea/vomiting symptoms of opioid withdrawal

You may be given other medications based on your symptoms and situation. For example, opioids can lead to opioid overdose when taken with benzos, so using benzos during opioid detox should only be done under medical supervision.

If an opioid overdose occurs during detox, you may be given naloxone (Narcan), the opioid overdose-reversal drug.

Fluids and Supplements

Opioid addiction can deplete your vitamin and mineral levels. During prescription opioid detox, you may receive IV fluids to replenish hydration.

You may also receive vitamin or mineral supplements to help restore nutrition and general health.

Supplements you may receive during opioid detox include:

  • Multivitamins
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin C

Follow-Up Prescription Opioid Addiction Treatment

Prescription opioid detox can help you wean off prescription drugs and other substances, but it is only the beginning of addiction recovery.

To stop your use of drugs and move on to a sober life, it’s important to follow detox with substance abuse treatment.

Many different treatment options are available for opioid addiction, including inpatient and outpatient rehab and partial hospitalization.

Your clinicians will likely recommend one of those options and create a custom treatment plan for you.

While in treatment, you can access various helpful tools and resources to help address your prescription opioid addiction.

Some of these include:

  1. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which uses medications to manage long-term cravings for opioids and other withdrawal symptoms. It’s the most effective form of treatment for opioid use disorder.
  2. Behavioral therapy, which is proven effective in drug addiction treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavioral therapy.
  3. Support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous, can be key in helping you stay on the path of sobriety.
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Find Help for Addiction to Prescription Opioids

Prescription opioid addiction is one of the largest substance abuse issues Americans face, but help is available. You don’t have to face this journey alone.

Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) helpline, or use their online treatment locator to find a detox or rehab program near you.

If you are already in recovery, you can find a NA or AA meeting online through their meeting finder link.

Contact your primary doctor for advice, as they can make targeted recommendations based on your needs.

Whatever you choose, know that help is possible and recovery is within reach.

Prescription Opioid Detox FAQs

What happens during prescription opioid detox?

Prescription opioid detox allows you to undergo withdrawal from opioids.

If you enter a medical detox program, you can withdraw from opioids safely and under medical supervision.

Here, you will receive medications, supplements, fluids, and other health care to ensure your safety during detox.

How long does prescription opioid detox last?

The amount of time prescription opioid detox will last depends on a number of personal factors.

These include the amount of opioids you used, the length of time you used them, whether you took them with alcohol or other substances, and more.

Do you always need addiction treatment after prescription opioid detox?

If you have a prescription opioid addiction and are seeking detox, you likely need addiction treatment.

Also called substance abuse treatment, this intensive care program can help you stop substance abuse, manage cravings, and prevent relapse for long-term recovery.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

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  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (29 August 2017). “Prescription Opioids.” Retrieved February 23, 2023 from https://www.cdc.gov/opioids/basics/prescribed.html

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  7. Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. (n.d.). Opioid medications. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved February 23, 2023, from https://www.fda.gov/drugs/information-drug-class/opioid-medications

  8. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2022, March 22). Prescription opioids Drugfacts. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved February 23, 2023, from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-opioids

  9. Mansi Shah; Martin R. Huecker (9 September 2022). StatPearls. Opioid Withdrawal. “Continuing Education Activity.” Retrieved February 23, 2023 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526012/

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