Addiction to narcotic pain killers derived or synthesized from opium poppies, such as heroin, morphine, codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone or hydromorphone, is characterized by an increasing need for higher doses, intense cravings and physical sickness when the drug is stopped. Ending opiate use after a long period may causes severe, but not life threatening, discomfort. According to Roger Minton, detox manager at ABC Recovery Center in Indio, California, physical symptoms of opiate withdrawal begin within a few hours after the last dose and lessen in severity after three days, with complete resolution likely in 5 to 7 days.
Opiate withdrawal symptoms may include sweating, runny nose, body aches, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, dilated pupils, watery eyes, restlessness, anxiety, nervousness, hyperactivity, goose pimples, hot flashes, fever, chills, weight loss, leg cramps, insomnia, rapid heart rate and increased blood pressure. Comfort measures include a quiet environment, hot baths or showers and a heating pad or hot water bottle for pain. Minton fights dehydration in his charges with sports drinks and soup broths, trying to steer them clear of caffeinated beverages, which may act as diuretics. He and his staff help by rubbing cramped muscles and offer orange juice and bananas for needed potassium.
Ibuprofen or naproxen can provide pain relief; acetaminophen may be better tolerated if the stomach is very upset. An antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine, may be effective for insomnia or to reduce anxiety. Diarrhea treatments include loperamide preparations. Hydrocortisone cream or diaper rash ointment may soothe irritated perianal tissues. A good multivitamin with extra vitamin C can help provide nutritional support.
Herbs and Supplements
Although no traditional remedy is proven effective in the treatment of opiate withdrawal symptoms by scientific studies, Minton reports using the scent of peppermint oil to relieve mild nausea. Eric R. Braverman, M.D., author of “The Healing Nutrients Within” suggests that the amino acid glutamine may help quiet cravings and that taurine may lessen the discomfort of opiate withdrawal. Braverman also recommends melatonin or tryptophan for sleep disturbances and the mineral, magnesium to aid muscle relaxation. Herbs that are traditionally used to calm the nerves include valerian, kava kava, and passionflower. Reportedly favored in Mexico as a remedy for opiate withdrawal, passionflower is discussed in an article on the benefits and risks of herbal medicines published in the February 2008 “Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology.” The authors cite a study in which liquid extract of passionflower was administered with the blood pressure medication clonidine and found to reduce anxiety, irritability, insomnia and agitation in subjects going through opiate withdrawal better than clonidine alone. Side effects of passionflower may include dizziness and nausea; the article also cautioned that some species may contain chemicals associated with liver toxicity. Consult a professional health care provider before taking any herb or herbal supplement.