The opioid crisis is a common term heard today when discussing drug addiction. Reports show that the amount of deaths from opioid overdoses has been increasing over the past several years. It’s not just the street drug heroin anymore, but now its prescription painkillers and synthetic opioids containing dangerous chemicals that are being abused. Opioids react in such a way with the body that people quickly become dependent on them and often by accident because some opioids are prescribed for pain by doctors.
What is Methadone?
Methadone is a lab created a compound that can be taken in pill or liquid form and has been used for decades to help those with opioid addictions. What methadone does to the body is two things simultaneously, methadone decreases pain and blocks any pleasurable effects of opioids.
With this, two things are accomplished that would otherwise maintain the addiction. One, methadone successfully manages to get rid of withdrawal symptoms and two, methadone makes the addictive drug pointless to use because methadone itself produces similar pleasurable effects in a safer way than opioids do.
Methadone Maintenance Programs
Since the discovery of methadone’s effects, heroin treatment centers have taken advantage of this safer substitute by providing methadone to patients in medically supervised facilities that use methadone maintenance programs. The withdrawal symptoms of opioids can be severe and life-threatening if not treated. Early withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, muscle pains, insomnia, agitation, sweating, and a runny nose. Later withdrawal symptoms become more debilitating and include abdominal pain, dilated pupils, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea.
However, methadone is not free from negative side effects either and is considered addictive if not taken carefully. This means that if the wrong dose is prescribed, then a patient may replace one addiction for another. Although, methadone is considered to be a much safer addiction because this drug is not injected and therefore gets rid of any risk of contracting an HIV infection or other infections associated with sharing dirty needles.
Another benefit of methadone is that this drug has a long half-life, so its effects last longer with a moderate high. After about 4-10 days of taking methadone as part of a heroin treatment program, the drug will start to take effect, and the first thing the patient will notice is gradual relief from withdrawal symptoms and lessening of cravings.
Rehabilitation treatment staff will monitor the patient the whole time, usually in an inpatient setting where they can adjust each subsequent dose based on how the patient improves. What the staff is looking for are signs of successful abstinence from opioids which can be done by assessing how much the patient is still craving opioids and whether or not they are experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
Another aspect in methadone maintenance is detoxification, which means getting all the opioids out of the patient’s system by ceasing the use of opioids. This can mean short-term detox in 30 days or long-term detox in 180 days, both of which are often done gradually. It is not always a good idea to stop an addictive drug cold turkey, especially when it comes to opioids. Gradual detox may involve giving smaller subsequent doses each time and stretching this out for several weeks to avoid putting the body through shock.
Everyone’s body is different, right down to the neurons, so not everyone will react to methadone treatment the same way. For some, there are negative side effects.
Negative side effects of methadone include:
- Fast heartbeat
- Shallow breathing
- Hallucinations or confusion
- Swelling, rash, hives
- Chest pain
These side effects are to be taken seriously. If you experience any of these symptoms while taking methadone, call a doctor or 911 immediately.
The Origins of Methadone Maintenance
Methadone maintenance was not always around and was not even approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration until 1972, with rules on how this type of heroin treatment should be used. By 2000, the Drug Addiction Treatment Act created more detailed rules that require staff to document outcomes and shortcomings of this type of treatment to ensure that this treatment is doing what it was designed to do.
Does Methadone Maintenance Work?
Studies show that methadone maintenance has a 60-90% success rate of recovery compared to only a 5-10% success rate for rehabilitation treatment that does not use medication to treat opioid addiction. Unfortunately, methadone treatment is often in short supply and is often hard to get into due to waiting lists. Overall, the research suggests that methadone maintenance is effective at decreasing opioid addictions, but lacks resources to be able to offer this form of treatment to everyone.
Critiques of Methadone Maintenance Programs
While methadone maintenance has helped many in heroin treatment centers finally gain control over their addiction for the first time, there have been others who have complained that methadone maintenance is simply replacing one addiction with another addiction. A study showed that the problem with the methadone programs themselves is that many people cannot afford this type of treatment even with health insurance because many insurance companies may not cover this type of controversial treatment.
What to Do If You Are Addicted
At The Recover, we understand how dealing with an opioid addiction alone is not an easy task to accomplish. While some may believe that they can overcome this addiction alone, there are a variety of rehabilitation treatment centers out there with a wide range of approaches to treat different types of addictions. Recovery from substance dependence is not a smooth transition to endure, but with support from professional staff and others experiencing similar struggles at those centers, you will have a fighting chance. There are counseling and aftercare programs that can help you maintain abstinence after going through a treatment program.
The Recover is unbiased substance abuse and mental health news provider that helps people who are looking for the right treatment programs in their area. We also provide information on West Virginia centers for addiction recovery. If you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms from your pain medicine or are trying to get off of heroin or a different type of opioid, please do not hesitate to contact us at (888) 510-3898 to talk to a treatment specialist who can help you find the right rehabilitation facilities for your personal needs and unique situation.