How Slow-Release Morphine May Outperform Methadone In Opioid Maintenance Treatment
Opioid maintenance treatment is a form of addiction treatment that uses opioid-based medications as safer substitutes for heroin or other powerful opioid substances of abuse. The two medications typically used in this kind of treatment are methadone and buprenorphine. In a study published in March 2014 in the journal Addiction, a multinational German and Swiss research team explored the potential usefulness of an opioid medication called slow-release oral morphine as an alternative to methadone in opioid maintenance treatment. These researchers concluded that slow-release oral morphine appears to be at least as effective as methadone in treating people with opioid use disorder.
Opioid Use Disorder And Medications
People affected by opioid abuse or opioid addiction can receive a diagnosis for a condition officially known as opioid use disorder. Some addiction programs use opioid-based medications as temporary treatments for this disorder in order to help their patients/clients avoid the immediate pitfalls of opioid withdrawal. Others use opioid-based medications as longer-term alternatives for people affected by opioid use disorder.
Both methadone and buprenorphine produce their drug effects inside the brain more slowly than heroin and other commonly abused opioid substances. In addition, they have a lower maximum effect than the typical abused opioid. During opioid maintenance treatment, doctors rely on these characteristics to introduce either methadone or buprenorphine as an alternative to the unrestrained drug intake associated with unaddressed opioid addiction.
When used in this context, both medications allow addicted users to gain control over their drug intake while simultaneously evading the onset of severe opioid withdrawal. Methadone has a stronger opioid effect than buprenorphine and comes in the form of tablets or oral solutions. Buprenorphine is often combined with a second non-opioid medication called naloxone (which helps reduce any risks for buprenorphine abuse) and comes in the form of a tablet or strip placed under the tongue.
Slow-Release Oral Morphine
Morphine is one of the primary mind-altering substances found naturally in a plant called the opium poppy, which acts directly or indirectly as the originating source of all opioid drugs and medications. Pharmaceutical companies throughout the world manufacture purified forms of this substance as treatments for certain forms of mild and severe pain, including surgical pain and the pain associated with various forms of cancer.
Some forms of morphine pass rapidly to the brain after entering the bloodstream and have a relatively short-term impact on the ability to experience pain. Other forms are designed to pass into the brain slowly over an extended period of time and provide longer-term pain relief. Slow-release oral morphine, also known as extended-release morphine, is a specific type of long-acting morphine commonly prescribed for the treatment of significant pain that doctors expect to continue for prolonged amounts of time.
Slow-Release Oral Morphine’s Usefulness In Opioid Maintenance Treatment
In the study published in Addiction, researchers from six German institutions and one Swiss institution used a project involving 157 German and Swiss adults affected by opioid dependence/addiction to examine the usefulness of slow-release oral morphine in opioid maintenance treatment.
All of these individuals previously received methadone as part of their treatment; for a total of 22 weeks, some of the participants received slow-release oral morphine instead of methadone. The researchers monitored each individual’s continuing involvement in heroin use with two weekly urine drug tests and compared the results of the tests gathered from the methadone users to the results of the tests gathered from the slow-release morphine users.
After completing their comparisons, the researchers found that the slow-release morphine users were slightly more likely to test positive for heroin use during treatment than the methadone users. However, the difference between the two groups was minor and insignificant. The methadone users also had somewhat higher chances of remaining active participants in opioid maintenance treatment than the slow-release morphine users. However, the researchers again characterized the differences between the two groups as negligible. In addition, the group using slow-release morphine did not experience serious opioid-related harm during treatment any more often than the group using methadone.
Benefits Of Easier-Access Morphine For Opioid Maintenance Treatment
The authors of the study published in Addiction concluded that slow-release morphine is apparently just as useful in opioid maintenance treatment as methadone. This is important, in part, because federal guidelines restrict the places in which recovering addicts can receive methadone-based treatment. The authors note that the usefulness of slow-release morphine depends upon the amount of the medication used during opioid maintenance. As a rule, the number of heroin-positive urine tests drops as the amount of slow-release morphine given to a patient/client increases.
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