As addiction treatment has evolved over the past few decades, one of the primary innovations that has emerged to help patients in recovery reduce their cravings and mitigate their withdrawal symptoms is the development of maintenance medications. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) has become a fixture of modern drug and alcohol rehab and, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), decreases opioid use, opioid-related overdose deaths, criminal activity, and infectious disease transmission. The first approved medication to treat withdrawal from heroin and opioids is a drug called methadone, which has endured as a staple of MAT for over forty years. Methadone is sold under the brand name Dolphine. Methadone was approved in the United States in 1947 and has been used in MAT since around 1970.
Classified by the World Health Organization as an essential medicine, methadone is an opioid used to treat pain and as maintenance therapy or to help with tapering in people with opioid dependence. Methadone maintenance is a doctor-prescribed and -supervised methadone regimen over a prolonged period of time designed to help gradually decrease cravings and withdrawal symptoms for those recovering from heroin and opioids. By law, methadone can only be dispensed through an opioid treatment program (OTP) certified by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The goal is to administer the drug in small doses so patients get relief from their withdrawal symptoms without experiencing the “high” from opioid use.
Some of the primary benefits of methadone include, but are not limited to:
It’s important to remember, however, that methadone has a high risk for diversion and subsequent abuse. It can also come with its own set of withdrawal symptoms that mirror those of other opioids, including but not limited to fatigue, flu-like symptoms, hallucinations, depression, anxiety, sleep disorder, and others. These symptoms can and should be managed with the help of an experienced and qualified medical professional. The standard dose for patients on methadone for heroin has become sixty milligrams; however, each patient’s care needs are different and may require more or less of the drug.
Patients must receive methadone under the supervision of a doctor. Eligibility requirements are determined on an individual basis by physicians and treatment professionals. After a period of stability (based on progress and proven, consistent compliance with the medication dosage), patients may be allowed to take methadone at home, between program visits. Prospective methadone patients must adhere to a series of federally mandated standards and clinical guidelines, including a documented and legitimate diagnosis of opioid addiction by a doctor. A person under eighteen years of age is required to have had two documented unsuccessful attempts at short-term detoxification or drug-free treatment within a twelve-month period to be eligible for maintenance treatment.
The best and most effective way to find local methadone clinics is by working with your physician, who will first determine eligibility and then point you in the direction of a quality, reputable, and trustworthy facility. There are methadone clinics all over the country, all of which can also be accessed through basic Internet research. Each step of the methadone maintenance process should be supervised by your prescribing physician. It’s possible in some cases to get high on methadone and experience withdrawal symptoms if dosage isn’t properly monitored. In fact, methadone is one of the most commonly abused types of MAT drugs.
It’s common for alcohol to become a problem during methadone maintenance treatment as well; however, this is often the case in longer-term cases of maintenance. In fact, one study published in the Oxford Academic Journal indicated that short-term methadone use can actually reduce alcohol consumption in nonalcoholic heroin addicts. There are, however, very real risks associated with concurrent alcohol and methadone use, including slowed breathing, excessive perspiration, seizures, fatigue, slurred speech, nausea and vomiting, blurred vision, and loss of consciousness. The dangers associated with mixing alcohol and methadone are the same as mixing alcohol with any other opioid, such as heroin or prescription painkillers.
While recent years have seen the emergence of other maintenance drugs such as buprenorphine (Suboxone) and naltrexone (Vivitrol), many doctors and treatment professionals still rely on methadone to help patients manage their withdrawal and cravings as they endeavor to take their lives back from addiction. If you or your loved one is battling dependency on heroin or other opioids, you may be eligible for methadone or other types of MAT. Talk to your doctor today.
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