Treatment involves supportive care and medications. The most commonly used medication, clonidine, primarily reduces anxiety, agitation, muscle aches, sweating, runny nose, and cramping.
Other medications can treat vomiting and diarrhea.
Buprenorphine (Subutex) has been shown to work better than other medications for treating withdrawal from opiates, and it can shorten the length of detoxification (detox). It may also be used for long-term maintenance, like methadone.
Persons withdrawing from methadone may be placed on long-term maintenance. This involves slowly decreasing the dosage of methadone over time. This helps reduce the intensity of withdrawal symptoms.
Some drug treatment programs have widely advertised treatments for opiate withdrawal called detox under anesthesia or rapid opiate detox. Such programs involve placing you under anesthesia and injecting large doses of opiate-blocking drugs, with hopes that this will speed up the return the body to normal opioid system function.
There is no evidence that these programs actually reduce the time spent in withdrawal. In some cases, they may reduce the intensity of symptoms. However, there have been several deaths associated with the procedures, particularly when it is done outside a hospital.
Because opiate withdrawal produces vomiting, and vomiting during anesthesia significantly increases death risk, many specialists think the risks of this procedure significantly outweigh the potential (and unproven) benefits.