Managing Opiate Withdrawal

If you stop taking opiates after using them constantly for a long period of time you may experience withdrawal symptoms. Opiates include drugs such as heroin, opium, morphine, codeine and methadone. Withdrawing from these drugs is quite uncomfortable and even difficult in many cases. However, in general, opioid withdrawal symptoms are not life-threatening.

Opiate withdrawal symptoms

Withdrawing from opiates is like having a very bad flu. Usually, people have the following symptoms:

  • muscle cramps;
  • hot and cold flushes;
  • watery eyes and nose;
  • nausea and vomiting;
  • diarrhea;
  • insomnia;
  • anxiety.

What is withdrawal management?

Withdrawal management represents medical and psychological care of people who have withdrawal symptoms as a result of reducing or stopping use of a drug. Withdrawal management relieves the uncomfortable symptoms and facilitates trust between patients and treatment staff.

At the same time, withdrawal management is an important first step in starting psychosocial treatment. However, most people who complete withdrawal management are likely to relapse to drug use. Withdrawal management is not enough to assure a sustained abstinence.

During withdrawal management, healthcare is available 24 hours a day. The staff includes:

  • a doctor — on call to intervene in case of complications;
  • nurses — responsible for monitoring the patients, dispensing medications according to the doctor’s prescription and providing any information the patient needs about withdrawal.

How does it work

During withdrawal management the medical staff monitors the patient regularly, about 3–4 times daily for any symptoms and complications. Also, they use the Short Opioid Withdrawal Scale (SOWS) 1–2 times a day.

SOWS aims to assess the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms and to select an appropriate management strategy. It includes a list of ten most common withdrawal symptoms and a three point scale according to the intensity of the symptoms. At the end, the doctor adds all the scores and determines the intensity of withdrawal:

  • 0–10 points — mild withdrawal;
  • 10–20 points — moderate withdrawal:
  • 20–30 points — severe withdrawal.