What is Treatment?

Road with the word "Start" painted on it

What is treatment for opioid use disorder?

Effective treatment of moderate to severe opioid use disorder (OUD) often requires medication. Many patients with OUD have psychosocial problems related to their drug use and will benefit from counseling, behavioral therapies, and addressing social determinants of health.

There are three FDA-approved medications that are commonly used to treat OUD:

  • Methadone – Prevents withdrawal symptoms and reduces cravings in people addicted to opioids. It does not cause a euphoric feeling once patients become tolerant to its effects. For outpatient treatment of opioid addiction, it is available in licensed clinics called opioid treatment programs (OTPs).
  • Buprenorphine – Blocks the effects of other opioids, reduces or eliminates withdrawal symptoms, and reduces cravings. Buprenorphine treatment is provided by specially trained physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants and can be prescribed from different settings, including doctors’ offices and outpatient drug treatment programs.
  • Naltrexone – Blocks the effects of other opioids preventing the feeling of euphoria. It is available from office-based providers in pill form or as a monthly injection. (American Psychiatric Association)

Learn more about medications for opioid use disorder (National Institute on Drug Abuse)

What are some of the essential or evidence-based approaches to treatment?

Different levels of treatment may be needed by different individuals or at different times – outpatient counseling, intensive outpatient treatment, inpatient treatment, or long-term therapeutic communities. OUD often requires continuing care to be effective. Evidence-based care for OUD involves several components, including:

  • Personalized diagnosis and treatment planning tailored to the individual and family
  • Long-term management – Addiction is a chronic condition with the potential for both recovery and recurrence. Long-term outpatient care is important.
  • Access to FDA-approved medications
  • Effective behavioral interventions delivered by trained professionals
  • Coordinated care for addiction and other conditions
  • Recovery support services, such as mutual aid groups, peer support specialists, and community services

-from the American Psychiatric Association

Several touchpoints to increase initiation and engagement of medication treatment for OUD are emerging. These include prisons and jails, emergency departments, and primary care settings such as community health centers.

Additional Information

See the Community Response Checklist for approaches to maximizing the efficacy and availability of treatment for OUD.

See Background Materials on treatment.