Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

The Use of Medications in Heroin Treatment

Heroin abuse and heroin addiction are spreading rapidly amongst teens. Due to a rise in prescription drug experimentation, many teens develop an unexpected physical dependence upon opiates and are unable to keep up with the cost of buying pills on the black market. As a result, they turn to the cheaper and more accessible alternative – heroin. With an opiate addiction already in place, heroin abuse immediately turns into heroin addiction, and when this occurs, medication is often needed to facilitate the detox process effectively and safely.

According to the Monitoring the Future Study funded by the National Institutes of Health, 1.3 percent of 8th graders, 1.5 percent of 10th graders, and 1.2 percent of high school seniors report having used heroin in their lifetime. Additionally, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports that the number of past-month heroin users over the age of 12 in the United States has grown from 153,000 in 2007 to 213,000 in 2008. More than 114,000 of users in the 2008 survey used the drug for the first time.

If your teen is abusing heroin, he is not alone. Thousands of other parents are dealing with the same issues and struggling to answer the same questions you are. Contact us at Muir Wood to learn more about the heroin detox and treatment options available to your teen, and begin your son’s personal journey toward recovery today.

Options in Heroin Detox

A number of different medications have been proven successful in the treatment of withdrawal symptoms and other issues related to heroin detox. Some of these medications are taken for the long-term, and which medication is right for your child will depend upon a number of factors, including:

  • Dose of heroin at time of cessation of use
  • Use of other drugs or alcohol
  • Co-occurring mental health issues
  • Goals for recovery

Every patient is unique, and whether or not medication is an appropriate choice is determined in the initial intake phase of treatment. There are a number of different options, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – methadone, buprenorphine, naltrexone and naloxone – and the choice in type and dose is made on a case-by-case basis.


Methadone is often considered the “gold standard” in heroin detox medication because it has been the primary medication in use for heroin addiction treatment for 30 years. Though it is an opiate medication that is also addictive, the way it is administered and the federal regulations restricting its use when prescribed for the treatment of opiate addiction help to ensure that patients do not abuse the medication. It is:

  • A synthetic opiate that is monitored in its production and distribution and therefore safer than heroin
  • Administered by a nurse on a daily basis in liquid form to mitigate issues of diversion
  • Required that patients attend weekly sessions with a case manager and come into a certified clinic daily when taking the medication on an outpatient basis
  • Required that patients continually pass drug tests that prove they are not abusing other drugs
  • Allowable for patients to earn “take home” doses of their medication over time when they remain clean and sober as well as dedicated to their program


Also known as Suboxone, buprenorphine treatment is the only drug that is FDA-approved for nothing but inpatient setting.

Naltrexone and Naloxone

Naloxone is a short-acting medication that works to stop the effects of heroin overdose and is therefore not common in the treatment setting. Naltrexone is longer acting but also is rarely used in inpatient heroin detox programs because its mechanism is to block the effects of opiates. It is more effective after heroin detox in the outpatient setting as it can assist patients in avoiding relapse – as long as they continue to take the medication regularly.

Medication Is Part of a Comprehensive Treatment Plan

It is important to note that heroin detox and medication that treats physical withdrawal symptoms and cravings are not long-term solutions nor are they a complete treatment program meant to treat heroin addiction alone. Psychotherapeutic care is crucial to the success of your child in long-term sobriety. Contact us at Muir Wood today to discuss the wide range of experiential and traditional treatment options we provide to teen boys in crisis and get started on the enrollment process for your son today.