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Is Methadone An Opiate, Opioid, Or Narcotic?

Published on December 3, 2020
Methadone Maintenance Treatment viles of Methadone in liquid form

Methadone is often used to help people recover from addictions to illegal and prescription opioids. In addition, some doctors prescribe it as a pain medication.

Many people wonder whether methadone is an opioid, opiate, or narcotic. While methadone isn’t an opiate, it can be classified as both an opioid and a narcotic. To understand how that’s possible, you need to learn more about all three terms. 

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are analgesics (pain relievers) that can treat moderate to severe pain. They provide pain relief by activating opioid receptors throughout the body. This process changes how the brain and nervous system react to pain. 

Some people abuse opioids (use them in a manner not prescribed by a doctor) because the drugs can produce euphoric effects, especially at high doses. If you abuse an opioid, you face a high risk of addiction.

Opioids are categorized into three types: opiates, semi-synthetic opioids, and synthetic opioids. 

Opiates

Opiate drugs are naturally occurring substances derived from the opium poppy plant. They include morphine, codeine, and thebaine. 

Semi-Synthetic Opioids

Semi-synthetic opioids are chemically modified versions of opiates. They include heroin, buprenorphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and hydromorphone. 

Synthetic Opioids

Synthetic opioids are produced entirely in a laboratory; unlike semi-synthetic opioids, they have no naturally occurring elements. They include fentanyl, tramadol, and pethidine.

Is Methadone An Opiate? 

As stated above, opiates are a naturally occurring group of opioids.

Since methadone is fully synthetic with no natural elements, it can’t scientifically be considered an opiate. However, some people use the terms “opioid” and “opiate” interchangeably, so you might sometimes see methadone described as an opiate. 

Is Methadone A Narcotic?

Narcotic is simply another word for opioids or any illicit drug that has potential for abuse or is used for nonmedical purposes. Thus, methadone can be considered a narcotic.

Is Methadone An Opioid?

Methadone is a synthetic opioid. Specifically, it’s a synthetic opioid agonist. 

The word agonist means it activates opioid receptors more slowly than other opioids and doesn’t cause euphoria in opioid-dependent people. It also reduces cravings for opioid drugs and eases opioid withdrawal symptoms.

That’s why the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved methadone for use in medication-assisted treatment (MAT). This use of methadone is often called methadone maintenance treatment. 

What Is Medication-Assisted Treatment?

MAT is a treatment program for people suffering from alcohol or opioid addiction (also known as opioid use disorder, or OUD). 

A person usually begins MAT after completing a detoxification program. During MAT, health care providers help speed up addiction recovery by prescribing methadone and other medications such as buprenorphine, naltrexone, and Suboxone (a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone).

MAT also gives people access to other substance abuse recovery services such as mental health counseling, meditation classes, and drug addiction support groups.

To learn more about inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment options for opioid dependence or other forms of drug abuse, please reach out to an Ark Behavioral Health specialist today.

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) - Methadone
National Institute on Drug Abuse - How Do Medications to Treat Opioid Use Disorder Work?
National Institute on Drug Abuse - Real Teens Ask: What Are the Different Types of Opioids?

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