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Methadone maintenance treatment.
The benefits of methadone:
When used properly, methadone helps individuals who struggle with heroin, fentanyl or other prescription painkillers. to function normally in daily activities, abstain from taking illicit opioid drugs and manage their withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
When taking methadone:
- Avoid consuming alcohol
- Take only the recommended dose, as prescribed by your doctor
- Store the medication at room temperature
- Keep medication away from light sources
Online resources for methadone treatment:
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
A U.S. federal-government research institute whose mission is to advance science on the causes and consequences of drug use and addiction and to apply that knowledge to improve individual and public health.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
A branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services charged with improving the quality and availability of treatment and rehabilitative services in order to reduce illness, death, disability, and the cost to society resulting from substance abuse and mental illnesses.
Methadone is one of the medications used for treating addiction to heroin and narcotic pain medicines. For over 50 years, methadone has helped millions of people recover from opioid drug addiction. Methadone is the medication with the longest history of use for opioid use disorder treatment, having been used since 1947.
Medication-Assisted Treatment with the use of methadone-based therapy shows significant improvements for a patient: better health, stable employment or education, better relationships with family and friends, and a return to feeling good about themselves again. If that sounds like what you want, then you are on the road to recovery.
Doses of methadone can be adjusted to meet the tolerance levels of any patient with opioid use disorder. When taken as prescribed, methadone is safe and effective.
When used as part of an opioid treatment program, methadone alleviates the symptoms of withdrawal and blocks the effects of opiates. Methadone acts as a stabilizer in the body so patients have the ability to withdraw from illicit opioids and receive the proper medical services and counseling support that they require.
Methadone works in these ways:
- The proper dose of methadone allows patients to lead a normal life without making them feel “high” or “drugged.”
- Methadone has a gradual, long-lasting effect of 24 hours or more, which mitigates any craving for other opioid drugs.
- Methadone is taken orally once per day, so there is no need for injection needles and their risk of diseases like hepatitis or HIV.
When taken as prescribed by a licensed healthcare professional, methadone helps patients function physically, emotionally and intellectually without impairment. Painkillers and heroin destabilize an individual and lead them to many risky behaviors; by contrast, methadone does not produce mood swings, drowsiness or narcotic effects.
Methadone is not only effective in reducing opioid use, but it also reduces opioid use-associated transmission of infectious disease and crime.
Methadone helps individuals recover from their addiction and reclaim their lives. Many people who have overcome opioid use disorder credit methadone with feeling “normal” again. It’s not a cure for addiction, however, and should be used as a component of a recovery program that includes counseling and life improvement services.
Also, methadone is a treatment only for opioid drug addiction. Using other drugs like alcohol, cocaine, or marijuana will defeat your recovery.
Patients taking methadone for addiction receive their medication orders from specialized addiction doctors at accredited programs called Opioid Treatment Programs (OTP). At the beginning of their treatment plan, a patient visits the OTP daily to visit the pharmacy and receive their medication. After a period of demonstrated responsibility and stability, patients may be given the privilege to take the medication at home between periodic program checkups.
The length of methadone maintenance treatment differs for everyone. The longer a patient stays in treatment, the greater chance he or she has for success.
Some patients willingly take methadone for the rest of their life. Others prefer to become completely medication free after they get their life back on track, which does take time.
Patients should discuss their intentions with the clinical team so a plan of gradual methadone reduction can be made. Patients should never alter their dose or completely stop taking methadone on their own as withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings may arise leading to relapse.
Since its creation more than 70 years ago, scientific research proves that methadone is as safe as any other medication prescribed by doctors. Methadone taken under a doctor’s orders does not cause harm to body organs nor does it alter your ability to clearly think and function.
There are two simple steps in order for methadone to be safely used:
- Take methadone exactly as prescribed by a licensed physician. To be safe, patients must take only the dose prescribed at the time prescribed.
- Share your complete medical history with the prescribing doctor. People receiving methadone need to provide healthcare professionals a list of every medicine, supplement and vitamin they are taking as they may have adverse interactions with methadone.
Some people may experience minor side effects, like sweating or constipation, when they start treatment. Over the course of a few days, these reactions typically stop or become less noticeable. A slight change in the dose of methadone may help these reactions to subside.
Millions of people have used and continue to use methadone as a treatment medication for opiate addiction. The large majority of patients in methadone maintenance treatment report the side effects as mild and bearable, and the hundred of thousands of people that take methadone on a daily basis is a testament to how well the people tolerate the medication.
Myths about Methadone
FALSE: Methadone does not “get into the bones” or in any other way cause harm to the skeletal system. Although some methadone patients report having aches in their arms and legs, the discomfort is probably a mild withdrawal symptom and eased by adjusting the medication level of methadone. If your medication level is incorrect or if you continue to use illegal substances in addition to methadone, your standard level may be insufficient and you could experience mild withdrawal symptoms.
FALSE: This is a consequence of a long period of time in active opioid use. Some individuals may have neglected their dental health by either avoiding their regular dental checkups or not regularly brushing their teeth twice a day. Another common issue is that many individuals consume more sugar than is recommended which would also have a negative impact on dental and physical health. Last of all, inadequate nutrition will fail to keep teeth, gums and bones healthy. When stabilized on methadone, individuals may become aware of their dental decay and other physical ailments for the first time.
FALSE: There is no scientific proof that methadone depletes calcium in the body. This can be attributed largely to poor nutrition. Calcium depletion is more commonly associated with the consumption of caffeine, which is consumed through coffee, tea, sodas, energy drinks, some candy bars and chocolate.
FALSE: Methadone has no adverse effects on intelligence, mental capability, or one’s ability to work. Stabilized methadone patients cannot be distinguished from non-methadone patients in terms of their ability to think, experience emotions or engage in physical activity. Study of the longer-term effects of methadone treatment on patients’ intelligence revealed that after ten years of continuous methadone treatment, standard intelligence test scores were the same or slightly higher than at onset of treatment.
FALSE: Stopping methadone use is different from kicking an opiate addiction. Although withdrawal from one does not last significantly longer than withdrawal from heroin and other opiates, methadone is NOT more addictive than opiates. Gradual withdrawal from methadone will only result in relatively mild withdrawal symptoms, and one is more likely to remain opiate-free after medically supervised withdrawal than with cold turkey withdrawal.
FALSE: The body has a natural mechanism for protection against disease, called the immune system. Methadone does not damage the immune system. Methadone is the only narcotic that does NOT damage the immune system. In fact, several studies suggest that HIV-positive patients who are taking methadone are healthier and live longer than people who are using other opiates and not being treated with methadone.
FALSE: Methadone, like most narcotic medications, is a nervous system depressant and has several side effects. These include: constipation, increased sweating, and dry mouth among others. These side effects often go away over time or with medication level adjustments and do not cause permanent damage.
FALSE: Methadone is not worse for the body than heroin or other opiates. Opiates as well as methadone are non-toxic, yet both can be dangerous if taken in excess but this is true of everything, from aspirin to food. Methadone is safer than street opiates because it is a legally prescribed medication and it is taken orally. By contrast, illegal street drugs often contain many harmful additives that are used to “cut” the drug and when taken intravenously, puts users at risk of blood transmitted diseases.
FALSE: The liver metabolizes (breaks down and processes) methadone, but methadone does not harm the liver. Methadone is actually much easier for the liver to metabolize than many other types of medications. People with hepatitis or with severe liver disease can take methadone safely.
FALSE: Methadone does not cause people to use cocaine. Many people who use cocaine started taking it before they started methadone maintenance treatment and many stop using cocaine while they are on maintenance. While methadone blocks heroin and other opiates’ withdrawal symptoms and cravings, the disease of addiction makes many people continue to use other drugs. Those who wish to stop using cocaine and other mood-altering drugs are able to do so with the help of counseling and a strong commitment to their recovery process.
FALSE: People are different, and the medication level that works for one patient is different from the medication level that works for another. The right level is a decision between patient and doctor without interference from others not involved in the patient’s treatment and care. The right level that works depends on one’s metabolism (how long one’s body takes to break down and process methadone). Most patients will need between 60 and 120 milligrams of methadone a day to stop using heroin and other opiates. A few patients will start to feel some relief from withdrawal symptoms with 5 to 10 milligrams but will need more milligrams a day in order to feel “normal.” Higher levels may be needed to block the “high” effects of other opiates and to eliminate the physical cravings for opiates.
FALSE: All people sometimes feel drowsy or tired. Patients on a stabilized dose of methadone will not feel any more drowsy or sedated than what is normal for that person. Drowsiness may occur during the initial stages of treatment and usually subsides or disappears as methadone dosage is adjusted and stabilized.