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Learning About Treatment With Medicine for Opioid Use Disorder

What is opioid use disorder?

Opioid use disorder means that a person uses opioids even though it may cause harm to themselves or others. It can range from mild to severe. The more signs of this disorder you have, the more severe it may be. Moderate to severe opioid use disorder is sometimes called addiction. People who have it may find it hard to control their use.

This disorder can develop from the use of any type of opioid, including prescription opioids (by using them without a prescription or using them differently from how your doctor prescribed them) and illegal opioids.

Prescription opioids are strong pain medicines. Examples include:

  • Hydromorphone.
  • Oxycodone.
  • Fentanyl.
  • Morphine.
Heroin is an example of an illegal opioid.

Chronic (long term) opioid use can change your brain and how it works. If you keep using the opioid, you may get strong cravings for it. You may need more and more of the opioid to get the same effect. Your body may become dependent on it.

How are medicines used for treatment?

Opioid agonist treatment (OAT) or medication-assisted treatment (MAT) involves taking a medicine in place of the opioid you were using. The medicines used in OAT include:

  • Buprenorphine combined with naloxone.
  • Methadone, such as Metadol.
  • Slow Release Oral Morphine (SROM).

OAT can work in different ways, depending on which medicine you take. Sometimes it can help with withdrawal symptoms. Other times it helps you manage cravings.

When you use OAT, you no longer think all the time about how to get or use opioids. You are more able to focus on getting better.

What is it like to take this medicine?

Because these medicines are very powerful, doctors follow a strict set of rules for OAT. This is to make sure the medicines are used safely.

Your doctor may have you sign a written agreement to take your medicine exactly as they tell you to. You'll also agree to be careful with it and not share it with others. If you don't follow the agreement, your doctor may not be able to keep treating you.

Depending on the medicine being used, you will probably take a pill every day, at least at first. With some medicines, you may be able to take them less often after a while. You may have to go to the doctor's office or a clinic to get your medicine each time.

Your dose may need to be adjusted up or down at first.

Some people have side effects, but they're usually minor.

You might take the new medicine for months, years, or even for life.

Along with OAT, counselling and social supports are also an important part of treatment for opioid use disorder.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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