Medications Used To Treat Heroin Addiction - Suboxone Treatment Clinic

Heroin is a highly addictive drug that causes physical and psychological dependence. In 2016, more than 620,000 people in the United States met the criteria for heroin use disorder–a behavioral health condition better known as heroin addiction.[1]

Heroin addiction is a serious public health issue that hurts the addicted individual, his or her family and friends, and the community as a whole. It places a burden on healthcare systems, law enforcement, the judicial system, and the economy, alike.

While heroin addiction is difficult to overcome, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a handful of medications to treat opioid use disorder. These medications can reduce heroin withdrawal symptoms, alleviate opioid cravings, and help prevent relapse. All medications that are used to treat heroin addiction are most effective when combined with a complete treatment program consisting of counseling and behavioral therapy. This comprehensive approach is referred to as medication-assisted treatment (MAT).[2]

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) For Heroin Addiction

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) involves the use of FDA-approved medications in combination with behavioral therapy and counseling. MAT is usually used for the treatment of opioid addictions including heroin and prescription opioid painkillers.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), MAT has been clinically proven to reduce the need for inpatient detox services while also providing a more comprehensive, individually-tailored treatment program.[3] A few benefits of MAT include:

  • Reduced drug cravings
  • Less severe withdrawal symptoms
  • Improved chances at patient survival and treatment retention
  • Reduced risk of relapse
  • Improved ability to obtain and keep a jobs

Medications Used to Treat Opioid Use Disorder

The FDA has approved three medications to treat opioid dependency and one medication to prevent and reverse opioid overdose. These are:

  1. Buprenorphine
  2. Naltrexone
  3. Methadone
  4. Naloxone (prevents opioid overdose)

These medications may be used in a MAT program to treat heroin addiction.


Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist-antagonist. It binds to and partially activates opioid receptors in the brain without producing the same addictive effects as other opioids. Buprenorphine can reduce pain, opioid withdrawal symptoms, and drug cravings.[4]

The medication can be used during detox 12-24 hours after a person’s last dose of heroin and may be continued for several months or years depending on a patient’s specific needs. Patients should not stop taking buprenorphine abruptly as it may cause withdrawal symptoms. Instead, individuals should work with their physician to taper off of the medication.

There are several heroin addiction treatment medications that contain buprenorphine, but three of the most popular are:

Subutex (buprenorphine)

Subutex is a brand-name prescription drug containing buprenorphine. It comes in the form of an oral pill that is taken daily.

Suboxone (buprenorphine/naloxone)

Suboxone is a brand-name prescription medication containing both buprenorphine and naloxone. It comes in the form of a sublingual film that is placed under the tongue where it dissolves and goes into the bloodstream. Suboxone is also used on a daily basis. Naloxone is added to the medication to prevent abuse of the drug.

Sublocade (buprenorphine injection)

Sublocade is the first injectable form of buprenorphine that is administered on a once-monthly basis. The injection is administered in the abdomen just under the skin where it forms a gel-like deposit, known as a depot, that gradually releases a steady dose of buprenorphine throughout the body for a month at a time.


Naloxone is a medication that is used to prevent opioid overdose. As an opioid antagonist, it works by knocking opioids off of opioid receptors and reversing the effects of an overdose. It can temporarily restore breathing to a person who is experiencing an overdose, providing them extra time to seek medical attention.[5]

Naloxone is sold by itself under the brand name Narcan. However, it is also added to many buprenorphine products to prevent abuse of buprenorphine medications.


Naltrexone is a medication that blocks the euphoric and sedative effects of opioid drugs. Unlike buprenorphine, naltrexone is not an opioid, is not habit-forming, and does not cause withdrawal symptoms. Patients must wait at least 7 days after using opioids before starting naltrexone.

Although it does not treat opioid withdrawal, naltrexone can suppress opioid cravings with no potential for abuse.[6]

There are two brand name medications containing naltrexone that are used to treat heroin addiction:

Vivitrol (naltrexone injection)

Vivitrol is a subcutaneous injection of naltrexone. It is administered by a medical professional on a monthly basis and can help eliminate heroin cravings.

ReVia (naltrexone)

ReVia is an oral pill that is taken on a daily basis. It helps alleviate heroin cravings and reduce the risk of relapse.

Methadone (Dolophine, Methadose)

Methadone was one of the first medications that was used to treat heroin addiction. It is still used today, however, it is not as popular as it once was due to a risk for abuse and dependence. Methadone is also sold under the brand names Dolophine and Methadose. These medications are taken on a daily basis during detox and treatment to alleviate heroin withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings.[7]

Find a Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) Program for Heroin Addiction Today

If you or a loved one are struggling with heroin addiction, our dedicated admissions coordinators at Suboxone Palm Beach can help. Call now to find a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program near you.