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Opioid Use Disorder

Learn more here about opioid use disorder and options for effective treatment.

What is opioid use disorder?

To understand opioid use disorder, it’s helpful to know the difference between physical dependence on opioids and opioid use disorder:

Opioid dependence: A physical condition in which the body gets used to the amount of opioids present. The body adapts by needing more opioids to feel the same effect (tolerance) and producing discomfort (withdrawal) when opioids are reduced or removed. This is a common, predictable effect of many drugs, including opioids.

Opioid use disorder: Opioid use disorder is the current medical terminology used to describe what has been commonly known as opioid addiction. Opioid use disorder involves being physically dependent on opioids as well as negative impacts on a person’s thinking, relationships, and ability to function.

Opioid use disorder is considered to be a chronic, relapsing medical condition, much like diabetes and hypertension. It can also be very effectively managed with medication and supportive services.

Why is opioid use disorder relevant to overdose?

Untreated opioid use disorder can cause great physical, social and psychological harm to the person with the medical condition as well as harm to relationships with others in their life. People with opioid use disorder are at increased risk for infectious diseases and for dying from an overdose.

illustration of person trapped in pill bottle amongst pills and looking up towards the cap

What are treatments for opioid use disorder?

The interventions supported by medical research for opioid use disorder include ongoing substance use disorder treatment with the medications methadone or buprenorphine, These medications improve health and financial outcomes and decrease the chances of dying from an overdose by 50%. Another medication currently being researched is long-acting naltrexone, a full opioid blocker.

In addition to medications, many people will also benefit from professional support services including counseling, drug screens, and medical monitoring.

While some people with opioid use disorders are able to abstain from problem opioid use using a treatment program that does not include treatment medications, the scientific data overwhelmingly supports medications as a primary way of avoiding relapse and supporting long term recovery.

Which treatment is right for me?

It is important that a person with opioid use disorder understand the pros and cons of different treatment options, including medications. You may need to talk with several different treatment and medical providers as most do not provide all three medications or are aware of other supportive services. Even if you think you do not want to be on medications, it may be helpful to learn about them.

The Medications for Opioid Use Disorder brochure provides information about the medications that support recovery and the settings where you can find them. The brochure is also available in Spanish.



screenshot of Medications for Opioid Use Disorder brochure

SAMHSA’s Pocket Guide to Medication Assisted Treatment provides a technical overview of the three treatment medications for opioid use disorder.

SAMHSA Pocket Guide: Medication-Assisted Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder

SAMHSA’s Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) 63, Medications for Opioid Use Disorder, provides detailed information for healthcare and addiction professional, policymakers, patients and families.

You will also need to consider the practical impacts of different treatment options, your personal values about treatment, and the level of support from those in your life including family, friends, and professionals. This can involve some trial and error, which is common in treating any chronic condition. Ultimately the best choice is the one that keeps you healthy, stable, and able to enjoy life.

SAMHSA TIP 63: Medications for Opioid Use Disorder

Finding treatment

The Washington Recovery Help Line provides 24-hour resources for substance use disorder treatment, mental health, and problem gambling. The site has a Medications for Opioid Use Disorder Locator where you can find options for treatment near you. Connect with the Help Line via phone, email, or text.

This directory includes substance use disorder treatment agencies, certified by the WA State DSHS Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery.

Treatment programs that dispense methadone can be found here.

Providers who prescribe buprenorphine for opioid use disorder can be found here. This list is not complete, so check with local medical providers and your insurance plan to find physicians who are taking new patients and accept your insurance.

Research and evidence about opioid use disorder treatment medications

This Info Brief provides a one page description of the evidence for different opioid use disorder treatment medications and links to research and policy summaries about the evidence base and cost effectiveness of opioid use disorder treatment medications.

Washington Recovery Help Line: 1.866.789.1511