Methadone Pros and Cons You May Want to Consider

Over 100,000 people are currently on methadone treatment for opioid dependence and addiction in America today (Harvard Medical School). Many people find the benefits of the methadone treatment for opioid abuse disorders and are able to stop abusing illicit opioids with the help of the drug and methadone clinics.

However, like every treatment model and especially every type of medication, there are side effects, drawbacks, and other cons to the use of methadone as a treatment. Considering the pros and cons will help you make an informed decision on whether or not methadone is right for you.

Pros of Methadone as a Treatment for Opioid Abuse

Methadone is a fantastic treatment program for many individuals. For quite a long time, the medical community, lawmakers, and the public as well have all struggled with a preconceived notion that abstinence from drugs altogether is the only true way toward a full recovery. Gradually over time, we have had to accept the fact that this not feasible for many individuals. As stated by the NIDA, “As used in maintenance treatment, methadone and buprenorphine are not heroin/opioid substitutes,” and methadone treatment helps many individuals lead better, more productive, and safer lives.

Some of the pros of the drug methadone (when dosed correctly and used as a treatment for opioid addiction) are as follows:

methadone maintenance

Methadone can help you recover from an addiction to opiates.

  • Methadone doesn’t cause euphoria (or many of the other side effects that opioids usually cause) in individuals who take it at the right dosage.
  • Methadone can be taken once daily so the patient only has to visit the clinic once and the effects last all day.
  • Methadone causes the withdrawal symptoms people normally feel when they stop abusing opioids (restlessness, muscle and bone pain, flu-like symptoms, insomnia, vomiting, diarrhea) to lessen and, in some cases, even be eradicated entirely.
  • Taking methadone helps to curb the cravings individuals who are addicted to opioids would feel more strongly otherwise. These cravings are usually a “major factor in relapse,” so the use of methadone in this sense actually helps to protect a patient’s recovery (CDC).
  • In patients who attend clinics that use methadone as a treatment, several dangerous factors, issues, and medical problems often caused by opioid abuse are reduced, including:
    • The use of injection drugs
    • Mortality (“The median death rate of opiate-dependent individuals in methadone maintenance treatment is 30 percent of the rate of those not in methadone maintenance treatment.”)
    • Criminal activity
    • Family issues (including divorce, relationship problems, etc.)
    • Homelessness
    • Risk of overdose
    • Risk of transmitting or acquiring HIV, hepatitis, endocarditis, infections, tuberculosis, thrombophlebitis, and STDs

Individuals in methadone treatment often have a better chance at relationship and job stability and pregnancy outcomes are better for addicted individuals on methadone than for those who are not. As a part of the program, methadone treatment offers behavioral therapy as well as other methods that differ from program to program. All in all, there are many pros of the use of methadone itself as well as attending treatment at a methadone treatment center.

Cons of Methadone as a Treatment for Opioid Abuse

However, there are many drawbacks to methadone treatment as well. One of the most important cons of note is that methadone can still be abused and cause addiction, just like any other opioid drug. If it is managed correctly by the staff at a methadone treatment clinic, this is less likely to occur, but many people obtain methadone illegally and still others are given the wrong doses.

Adverse side effects and other drawbacks are experienced by some individuals who take the drug and, as the NIDA states, these “likely stem from its increased use for treating pain, along with physician inexperience in prescribing it.” Still, the undesirable aspects of methadone should not be ignored.

Some of the cons of the drug methadone are as follows:

  • Methadone, unlike naltrexone, burprenorphine, and especially the brand medication Suboxone, does not have a built-in means of discouraging abuse of the drug. These other medications have ways of causing issues for those who abuse them by precipitating withdrawal and other means, but methadone can only be dosed correctly to avoid these problems, and sometimes, even that is not enough.
  • Methadone is a drug that is readily available to those who want to abuse it by buying it illegally. According to the NLM, “In the United States, the most commonly abused opioids are heroin and methadone.”
  • Methadone has side effects like any other drug. As stated by the NLM, some of the most common are:
    • Weakness
    • Headache
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Loss of appetite
    • Weight gain
    • Stomach pain
    • Dry mouth
    • Sore tongue
    • Sweating
    • Flushing
    • Problems urinating
    • Vision problems
    • Changes in mood
    • Insomnia
    • Missed menstrual periods
    • Decreased desire for sex or decreased sexual ability
  • Methadone has also been known to cause serious or dangerous side effects such as hallucinations, extreme drowsiness, and seizures.
  • An individual can still overdose on methadone, just like other opioid drugs, and may experience respiratory depression which can lead to loss of consciousness, coma, or death.
  • If methadone is not given in a high enough dosage, it causes issues for the patient. According to the CDC, “Studies of methadone effectiveness have shown a dose-response relationship, with higher doses more effective in reducing heroin use, helping patients stay in treatment, and reducing criminal activity.” Lower doses can cause patients to relapse, drop out of treatment, and other undesirable effects.
  • Methadone must always be dispensed from a methadone treatment center, unlike buprenorphine which can be prescribed by certain certified doctors in their offices.

Methadone as an opioid dependence and addiction treatment is multi-faceted and has both pros and cons of its use. If you are considering treatment at a methadone treatment center, you should make sure to review all the possible advantages and downsides of the medication itself before you decide whether or not it is right for you. Most methadone treatment programs must last a year or more in order to be as effective as possible, and understanding all that taking this medication entails will help you decide if committing to methadone treatment is possible for you as well as favorable to you and your needs.