What is Pharmacotherapy?
In the alcohol and other drug sector, pharmacotherapy is referred to as the use of medications to respond to drug abuse / dependence, including:
- as replacement or substitution treatment for opioid (usually heroin) dependence
- the management of withdrawal from opioids (heroin, morphine, pain medication)
- the blocking of drug effects from heroin, other opioids or alcohol
Some of the more common pharmacotherapies used in Australia are:
- Methadone: a withdrawal and substitution treatment for heroin dependence.
- Buprenorphine: used in heroin dependence as a withdrawal and/or substitute treatment. It is also available in combination with naloxone (suboxone), an injecting deterrent.
- Naltrexone: used to treat alcohol dependence and for heroin withdrawal and dependence.
- Disulfiram: used to treat alcohol dependence and attempts to maintain abstinence by causing an unpleasant reaction if alcohol is consumed.
- Acamprosate: used to treat alcohol dependence and maintain abstinence once withdrawal from alcohol is complete. It may be combined with naltrexone.
For further detail on each of these see pharmacotherapy information.
Why is understanding pharmacotherapy important?
It is important that young people who are dependent on substances are well-informed in relation to their treatment options and that they are given the best opportunities to achieve their treatment goals.
In general, substance dependence is a complex health condition that often requires long-term treatment and care. Treatment is important to reduce its health and social consequences and to improve the well-being and social functioning of people affected.
The main objectives of using pharmacotherapy as part of treatment are:
- to reduce dependence on substances
- to reduce the harms and deaths caused by the use of substances or associated with their use; for example, BBVs, alcohol-related violence, liver damage, ABI, cancer
- to improve physical and psychological health
- to reduce criminal behaviour
- to facilitate reintegration into the workforce and education system, and
- to improve social functioning
It is useful if practitioners are able to recognise when young people may benefit from pharmacotherapy and then be able to instil hope by discussing options and supporting them through the process.