Opiates are used in medications, most often to treat pain. These drugs are derived naturally or synthetically from the opium plant. These drugs, such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, bind to opiate receptors in the body to block pain signals. They can also cause users to experience euphoria. Once a patient develops a tolerance to an opiate, he or she may begin to escalate use to achieve the same effects. A physical dependency can develop and this is very hard to reverse without proper medical treatment. Opiate antagonist drugs are designed to block the opiate receptors, which in turn leads to a blocking of the drugs’ effects. This is why opiate antagonists are used in the treatment of opioid dependence. Examples of opiate antagonists are naltrexone, naloxone and buprenorphine. Some are also used to fight the overdose effects in a person who has taken too much opiate medication.

Naltrexone works by blocking opiate receptors in the brain and the euphoric effects that opiates elicit. This helps to block cravings. Naltrexone is given orally or by injection to fight addiction to alcohol and opiate medications, both legal and illegal. The Mayo Clinic says Naltrexone won’t cure the addiction by itself, but that it works best as part of a treatment that includes counseling and support meetings.

Naloxone is an opiate antagonist that is used to treat a drug overdose involving opiates. The drug is injected or inhaled through the nose and acts within minutes to reverse effects of the medication. In the case of overdoses that are nearly fatal, Naloxone can restore breathing and blood pressure. People who take Naloxone will go into withdrawal when the medication is administered.

Buprenorphine is a medication that is similar to morphine and is used in the treatment of opiate dependence. Medications that contain buprenorphine include Suboxone and Subutex. It forms a strong bond with the opiate receptors in the body and stays bound to them longer than any other opiate medication. This can allow for longer pain relief and a lower risk of physical dependence. The medication is opiate based, however, meaning that it can lead to dependence and the need for detoxification. 

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