Methadone is a popular drug that treats chronic pain and opiate addiction. It is a severely controlled substance only available from specialized doctors and clinics. The DEA regulates the distribution and use of methadone and drugs like it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, doctors and scientists began using methadone as a multipurpose treatment for opiate addiction. This seemed to be an excellent idea except it has a few drawbacks. These drawbacks are why methadone is not a cure for addiction. It is a treatment. In order to understand this it is important to know how it is used, why it is used, what it does, and the benefits and drawbacks of methadone treatment.
How is Methadone used
Addicts use methadone in pill or liquid to treat addiction. Doctors supply the methadone in a clinic or rehab facility. Although there are some that have weekly or monthly schedules, most addicts receive their methadone from doctors or clinics daily. Doctors determine the level and type of dose according to a titration chart and the addicts’ responses. Most addicts start high then the dose is gradually reduced over a period of weeks or months. When the addict is low enough the doctor might take them off methadone completely but some addicts remain on it for years, even decades.
Why use Methadone for Addiction
There are several reasons why doctors use methadone for addiction. Each patients physical condition, addiction, and underlying disorders are factors in this decision. These reasons are:
- Patient is a chronic pain patient as well as an addiction,
- Other methods of treatment are not working,
- Patient has built a tolerance to other treatments,
- They have tried and failed at other methods,
- They are experience negative side effects from other medications,
- They continue using opiates despite clear evidence that it is harming them,
- They have an underlying condition prevents using other medications or going through withdrawal,
- They have a reason to avoid withdrawal symptoms such as a job involving safety of others,
- Their addiction is too severe for other methods, and
- They want to stop using opiates.
Although these are not all the reasons why a patient is put on methadone, they are a few of the most common ones. Most people need to have a legitimate reason why methadone is the best medication for their addiction before a doctor will prescribe it.
What does Methadone Actually do?
Methadone is an opiate blocker. It binds to the receptors that are normally populated by the opiate of choice. This stops the user from getting high and prevents the receptors from triggering withdrawal symptoms. When this happens the treatment stops addicts from craving opiates and hopefully stops them from using even socially.
What are the Benefits and Drawbacks of Using Methadone
The benefits of the using methadone are fairly obvious once you know how the drug works. Methadone:
- usually does not interfere with daily activities,
- is legal with a prescription,
- prevents some of the common conditions associated with withdrawal,
- is used to treat chronic pain which is often the underlying disorder associated with addiction,
- does not produce a high when the dosage is correct,
- is slow acting and controls withdrawal and cravings for up to 24 hours,
- has been used to treat addiction since the 1960s,
- is safe when taken correctly at dosages prescribed by the doctor,
- when compared to illegal purchases methadone is cheaper, and
- is relatively safe when compared to other options, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
It is for these reasons that methadone is one of the most commonly prescribed treatments for opiate and opioid addiction. As with any drug, it is not without its drawbacks. Methadone:
- is addictive,
- causes overdose when taken outside of the normal prescribing range or with other opiates,
- is a long term treatment, a person might be on methadone for years,
- has many potential interactions with other drugs and herbal products,
- can lead to serious withdrawal symptoms if stopped suddenly,
- mixing methadone with SSRIs or Benzodiazepines is dangerous, and
- some people sell methadone on the street, so law enforcement is extremely suspicious of methadone prescriptions.
Despite these drawbacks, methadone is still one of the most preferred treatments for opiate addiction. It is widely used in combination with therapy and other methods of treatment. Many doctors prefer it to Suboxone and others like it because it is more effective in patients with long term addictions.
What is Methadone if Not a Cure
Methadone is a treatment. It does not stop someone from being an opiate addict it just keeps them from using. For many addicts this is enough. Methadone, combined with other treatments helps a person get off opiates. The other treatments stop someone from using after they stop the methadone. Methadone itself is addictive, this means when someone stops using it they go through withdrawal. Unfortunately, once this withdrawal occurs there is nothing to stop them from going back to using. In addition, a person has to change in order to be cured. Methadone stops the cravings and withdrawal, it does not stop the triggers, social use, and other situations where a person might use. It is possible for them to think that it is okay to use and then overdose. Methadone only treats a tiny portion of the addiction. It does not change the mental and emotional addiction to the drug.