Does Methadone Work to Treat Opiate Addiction?

The question does methadone work to treat opiate addiction is a difficult one to answer. As with any replacement therapy, there are pros and cons of methadone treatments and methadone maintenance therapy. Doctors take both the positive benefits and negative consequences into account when considering methadone treatments. Since methadone is an addictive drug these benefits and consequences are carefully weighed before starting a full course of methadone treatment. Only by examining the standard methadone protocol as well as the pros and cons of methadone, can you see why Methadone treatment works for opiate addiction.

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The Standard Methadone Treatment Protocol

methadone benefits

Methadone can help you become free from addiction.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s Publication, “Treatment and Improvement Protocols,” the standard methadone treatment protocol has three phases. These phases are the acute or induction phase, the rehabilitative or stabilization phase, and the maintenance phase.

Acute Phase

This is the first phase of methadone treatment. It usually lasts two to seven days and is the point where much can go wrong. A doctor and his or her staff closely monitor the patient after administering the first dose of methadone. They then adjust the methadone to an amount that stops withdrawal symptoms. Many opiate addicts fear the withdrawal symptoms and go back to using as soon as withdrawal starts. By controlling the withdrawal symptoms at the beginning, when they are the worst with methadone, the addict is more comfortable and therefore less likely to continue using.

Rehabilitative Phase

The rehabilitative phase is the second phase of methadone treatment. This phase lasts between one and four months but may be longer depending on the patient. Doctors use methadone treatment daily to stop the opiate cravings completely. They then watch for relapse. By stopping the cravings, the Methadone treatment makes it easier to stay off the opiate.

Maintenance Phase

The maintenance phase is the third and longest phase of the methadone treatment protocol. This phase lasts between one month and a lifetime. The patient takes methadone daily until he or she, the doctors, and the therapists agree that the patient can safely be taken off the drug. The methadone is then tapered off to avoid the symptoms of methadone withdrawal. Because methadone therapy is an ongoing, limitless treatment there is no reason for an addict to go back to using despite the temptation to do so.

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The Pros of Methadone Treatment

Many doctors, scientists, and recovering addicts are familiar with the positives of methadone treatment. One of the largest benefits of methadone treatment is that it is one of the most effective ways to control an opiate addiction. According to a study done by researchers at the University of California posted on the National Institute on Drug Abuse, methadone maintenance treatment combined with counseling is more effective than any other treatment. This is because it replaces an opiate such as heroin with methadone reducing the withdrawal symptoms and controlling the cravings. Some other pros to methadone treatments are:

  • It has been around for over 50 years to treat opiate addiction of all types. It is a well known and a well-researched form of treatment.
  • It reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms that keep addicts from stopping opiate abuse or staying clean once they have stopped.
  • The daily treatment schedules give addicts structure.
  • Because of the daily “fix” the addicts get, it helps them to stay away from combining legal and illegal drugs.
  • Methadone treatment is covered by many insurance plans and Medicaid.
  • By closely monitoring the methadone treatment, doctors can see, judge, and record the progress made by addicts in the treatment program.
  • It is less expensive than alternative medications for opiate addiction.
  • Although it is not considered completely safe by any means, it is safer than stopping opiates cold turkey.
  • Dosages are adjusted for each patient and there is no cap on how much is given at once. This allows addicts that are tolerant to methadone to continue to benefit from treatment.
  • Daily visits allow the doctor to discuss counseling options and many treatment centers have individual and group counseling in house so the addict can get their dose and counseling without an extra visit.
  • It is safer for heavier users because they can slip and take illegal opiates while using the methadone. Taking other opiates while on some of the other medications for opiate addiction treatment can kill.
  • There is no time limit on methadone maintenance treatments. The patient can continue on methadone until he or she is ready to taper it down.

There are many more reasons that methadone works. Most people who are addicted to opiates and receive methadone treatment achieve at least some success if they take full advantage of the whole program. Methadone treatment is not without its cons though.

Cons of Methadone Treatment

As with anything, there are negatives to methadone treatment. These negatives are usually not the reason why methadone treatment fails. Some of the cons are:

  • It is possible to be on methadone and illegal opiates at the same time.
  • Daily doses might be bothersome for patients with jobs.
  • Patients may have a hard time getting to and from daily visits to a doctor or clinic.
  • Methadone shows up in most drug screens.
  • Methadone is addictive and it is possible to overdose on it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, use of methadone as a treatment for opiate addiction has been increasing since the 1960s. This means the deaths associated with methadone are also increasing.

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Does Methadone Work

Most doctors, clinicians, and counselors agree, if the methadone treatment contains counseling and followed properly, it works for the majority of those who try it. The benefits of methadone treatment and counseling outweigh the negatives associated with it. More importantly most people who engage in a full methadone treatment program and stay within the guidelines of the program do not go back to using. Several studies done on methadone treatment show it as being an effective way to treat opiate addiction. In these respects, it is safe to say that methadone works for treating opiate addiction as long as the dosage and counseling requirements are followed carefully.