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How Is Methadone Used in Opioid Treatment

Methadone is an opioid chemically structured similar to heroin or opium, and methadone maintenance treatment has been used to treat opioid dependence since the 1960s. It is recognized by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) List of Essential Medicines. It highlights the significance as a treatment for heroin or opioid dependence. 

While it is a conventional means of treating heroin or fentanyl addiction, there are still possible dangers that are worthy of discussing. Methadone is typically used in programs where clients are given the drug as part of a maintenance program.

Methadone treatment can be traced back to its roots in the 1960s, and it was the United States Government’s response to heroin addiction based solely on law and order. While today we take a more passionate approach to treating addiction, in the past, it was based more on following the law. 

Addiction treatments were very new in these times, and the procedures implemented seldom boasted results. It was estimated that 70 to 90 percent of heroin users returned to using drugs after their treatment. It is not all that surprising based on the methods used. The most common response to addiction was spending time in a prison cell and going through self-detox. With all that we know today about addiction, that doesn’t come close to solving the underlying needs.

Methadone maintenance has been shown to reduce or eliminate the use of heroin, lowers death rates, and the criminality associated with opioid use. It allows individuals to improve their health and social productivity, as well as reduce the spread of infectious disease. 

This kind of treatment is known to be medically safe. The therapy is often used on those who have been resistant to treatment, in the past having relapsed several times while attempting to stop using opioid drugs.

As we are all aware, the current explosion of the opioid crisis has become a significant talking point by politicians and the everyday citizens alike. Opiate addiction has swept through the country, claiming more lives than other severe epidemics the United States has experienced. 

With few options to turn to, methadone treatment is seen as a worthy adversary when fighting for our addicted population to abstain from opiate drugs. Below we will examine just how methadone is used in opioid treatment and how it has saved many lives.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) remains the highest standard of treating opioid use disorders. It is useful in reducing the frequency of injecting opiate drugs intravenously. MAT includes opioid agonist treatment in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies to achieve stability. MAT has been a highly successful format for those serious about quitting opioids.

MAT saves lives and increases the chance someone will remain in treatment to build skills and networks required for long-term recovery. It is supported by behavioral health groups nationwide, and when used in conjunction with psychosocial treatment, can significantly improve outcomes in people’s lives. For it to be effective, goals must be achieved, which include:

  • Modify the behaviors that lead to opioid abuse
  • Encourage clients to use medications as prescribed
  • Treat existing psychiatric disorders – psychosocial treatment starts with an assessment of a client’s psychosocial needs
  • Individual or group counseling
  • Connecting to family support systems
  • Referrals to various community-based services
  • Evidence-based intervention that provides rewards and reinforces positive behaviors, such as abstaining from opioids
  • Mutual help programs, such as NA, 12-step programs

How Is Methadone Used in Opioid Addiction Treatment?

One of the most severe problems in modern American history is the countless number of citizens that have become addicted to opioid drugs. Opioids are in a class of drugs known as central nervous system depressants (CNS) and are most often used to treat symptoms of pain and long-term chronic pain. Opium, however, is a potent central nervous system depressant in which most painkillers derive.

Though the medications have shown their effectiveness when treating mild to severe pain, they’ve also shown their dark side that they are highly addictive. When the drugs are taken consistently over some time, the person using them will become physically and even psychologically dependent on opioid substances. Eventually, they will experience withdrawal symptoms when they are unable to obtain the drug or miss a dose.

Those in the addiction field encourage opioid users to complete detox programs that are followed by residential treatment. As an alternative, they would begin replacement therapy in a methadone maintenance program.

Methadone, as we mentioned above, is an opioid analgesic that can be used to treat pain, but it has a reputation for treating opioid addiction. When someone abusing heroin or painkillers chooses a methadone maintenance program, they will begin by receiving daily doses of methadone.

Methadone boasts a long half-life for an opiate, but it takes several days of using the drug daily for it to reach its peak level effect. When the person reaches the peak level of effect, they are considered to be on a “stable” dose of methadone. 

Once this state has been achieved, methadone will bind to opioid receptors in the person’s brain that prevents them from experiencing withdrawals. Fortunately, it will also satisfy cravings that would be experienced otherwise. Methadone is different in that it doesn’t offer the euphoria that heroin or OxyContin would. Someone on a stable dose of methadone will not get high from the drug like the drugs mentioned above, and methadone will block the effects of other opioids to an extent.

Once stabilization has been reached, the client will continue methadone maintenance indefinitely or begin what is known as a methadone taper. What this means is the specialists overseeing the process will steadily decrease the dose until their client is no longer physically dependent on opioids of any kind.

What Are the Dangers of Methadone?

As with all opioids, some dangers can present themselves with methadone being no different. Methadone maintenance requires medical supervision when consuming their daily doses, and must attend their treatment facility daily.

Despite the overwhelming evidence proving methadone maintenance effectiveness, it can still result in dangerous reactions with a number of other substances. When methadone is used in conjunction with benzodiazepines like Xanax or Valium, it has been scientifically proven to be lethal.

Because of this, methadone maintenance programs require clients to participate in regular drug screens to ensure they are abiding by the rules of the program. With any opioid, the risk of overdose is possible, and this is especially true when methadone is combined with other opioid drugs. 

Are There Alternative Maintenance Drugs for Opiate Addiction?

For those who wish to use an alternative to methadone, some programs offer Suboxone as their primary means of treatment. Suboxone is considered chemically similar to methadone and is another powerful partial opioid antagonist that bonds with the brain’s opiate receptors to prevent withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Like methadone, it does not provide intoxication or euphoria.

The primary difference, however, is that Suboxone is much more effective at blocking the effects of other opioids due to the drug containing an amount of naloxone, a medication used to reverse an opioid overdose.

Suboxone is sometimes known as “subs” by those who use it, and it cannot be used in conjunction with other opioids because the effects are completely blocked, and someone using Suboxone that uses any other opiate will not experience any effects. This is a way that Suboxone differs from methadone.

Medication-assisted treatment is an extremely viable option and will continue to be utilized and treat those in need. If you have been struggling with an addiction to heroin or fentanyl and standard treatment has not been successful, methadone treatment may be the alternative that helps you maintain long-term sobriety. If you are ready to get help, the specialists at Maryland House Detox have the tools and experience to help.



Sources

Methadone maintenance treatment. (1970, January 01). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK310658/

Velander, J. R. (2018). Suboxone: Rationale, Science, Misconceptions. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5855417/

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Effective Treatments for Opioid Addiction. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/effective-treatments-opioid-addiction/effective-treatments-opioid-addiction

Opioid Abuse and Addiction. (2019, May 22). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/opioidabuseandaddiction.html?utm_expid=.YDctbaKlRwemM6rjn-4YCA.0&utm_referrer=https://www.google.com/

Sciences, N. A., Engineering, & Medicine, A. (2017, July 13). Trends in Opioid Use, Harms, and Treatment. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK458661/

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