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Methadone Maintenance Treatment | Benefits & Disadvantages

Published on December 2, 2020

When taken as prescribed, methadone maintenance treatment is a safe and effective option that can help you or a loved one in the journey to overcome opioid use disorder. But, though it has much to offer, this treatment option does come with some risks.

How Methadone Works

Methadone is a synthetic opioid analgesic that is available from SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) certified treatment programs and methadone clinics in the United States.  It’s classified as a Schedule II controlled medication.

Methadone is a long-lasting full opioid agonist, meaning that it stimulates the same receptors targeted by other commonly abused opioids like heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and codeine.

However, methadone stays in the body for far longer than these compounds—up to 56 hours—and has a far less potent effect.

Prescribing Methadone For Opioid Use Disorder

Opioid withdrawal presents serious risk if use is discontinued after you develop dependence. Not only can withdrawal symptoms be medically dangerous, but the cravings that come with it can be all-consuming and push you to seek out more of the drug.

This makes relapse extremely common, even after detox (detoxification).

Methadone is used to help treat opioid use disorders and heroin addiction. It helps you manage both withdrawal symptoms and cravings. 

In the same way an ex-smoker would use a nicotine patch to help quit cigarette use, methadone is prescribed to give you a safe alternative to hard drugs and opioid painkillers as you work towards full recovery.

Also, while methadone is in your system, it blunts or blocks the effects of other opioids, making use and abuse a less appealing option during treatment.

How Long Does Methadone Maintenance Treatment Last?

According to government research, the length of methadone treatment for opioid use disorder should be a minimum of 12 months, during which the dosage will be gradually reduced to prevent methadone withdrawal.

Benefits Of Methadone Treatment

There are several benefits that come with enrolling in a methadone maintenance treatment program:

  • When used as prescribed, methadone is completely safe. (Note that it should never be taken without a prescription.)
  • This treatment has been shown to be effective and is associated with better outcomes for addiction treatment patients.
  • Methadone greatly reduces drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms while used.
  • The medication is highly cost-effective for both providers and patients.
  • Methadone users dramatically reduce their risk of infectious diseases associated with intravenous drug use.
  • Methadone use allows individuals to disengage from illegal or criminal activity to obtain illicit opioids.
  • Methadone promotes regular contact between healthcare professionals and patients during recovery.

Disadvantages Of Methadone Treatment

Although effective for many patients with opioid addiction, there are some risks and disadvantages associated with methadone treatment:

  • Methadone is an opioid and individuals relying on methadone will remain physically dependent on opioids until their dosage is gradually reduced and full recovery is achieved.
  • Dosing instructions provided by the healthcare provider need to be followed precisely on a long-term basis.
  • Methadone treatment is a long-term commitment and some may be unable to fully discontinue use of the medication, even after many years.
  • To receive the medication, you’ll likely make daily visits to the treatment center until you qualify to take supplies of the medication home and self-administer.
  • Methadone can cause overdose or other serious medical complications if the medication is abused or used in combination with other drugs.
  • As a long-lasting opiate, withdrawal symptoms following sudden methadone discontinuation will be likewise long-lasting, with withdrawal symptoms continuing for up to a month or more.

Methadone Side-Effects

Methadone use is associated with various side effects such as:

  • restlessness and unease
  • nausea or vomiting
  • slow breathing
  • itchy skin
  • heavy sweating
  • constipation
  • sexual dysfunction
  • drowsiness

Less common and serious side effects of methadone that should prompt medical attention include difficulty breathing, lightheadedness, rash, swelling, chest pain, pounding heartbeat, mental confusion, and hallucinations.

Medication-Assisted Treatment For Addiction Recovery

Medication-assisted treatment programs can include the use of methadone or other FDA-approved medications such as buprenorphine or naltrexone.

Medication-assisted treatment may also be used alongside:

  • inpatient treatment for 24/7 rehab and support
  • outpatient treatment options that allow you to continue attending work and school
  • behavioral therapy to help you better understand addiction and make meaningful change
  • group therapy and support groups

To learn more about customized opioid addiction treatment plans and methadone maintenance therapy, please contact Ark Behavioral Health today.

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

National Center For Biotechnology Information - Methadone maintenance treatment - Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings
U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Methadone

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