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How Is Methadone Used?

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Physicians use methadone to treat opioid use disorders as a medication-assisted treatment. It helps withdraw a patient from opioids and aids in the recovery process.

However, it isn’t without its risks and side effects and should be used under the guidance of a physician in combination with other treatment strategies.

What Is Methadone?

Methadone is an opioid that people may use as an alternative to heroin. It’s synthetically made and has a variety of uses, including pain relief and opioid addiction treatment. It was originally developed in Germany during World War II but has since become widely used in the United States.

Methadone is an FDA-approved medication for pain management and treating opioid use disorders. It is safe and effective when used as prescribed by a physician and has a long duration of effect, allowing it to be taken less frequently than some opioids without wearing off too quickly. 

What Does Methadone Do?

 Like other opioids, methadone works on the brain to suppress pain signals. However, it doesn’t offer the same sense of euphoria or high as other opioids, such as heroin. It can also block the high from other opioids and can ease withdrawal symptoms by mimicking the feelings induced by these other drugs.

How Is Methadone Used?

Methadone is used for pain relief as well as treatment for opiate addiction. Methadone was originally developed as a pain reliever. Doctors often prescribe it to manage chronic pain, after major surgeries, or other causes of extreme or chronic pain.

Physicians can also use it as an important part of treatment for opioid addiction, usually as part of an overarching medication-assisted treatment. It can help manage and ease withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapses during treatment.

As with all medications used in medication-assisted treatment (MAT), physicians must prescribe methadone as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes counseling and participation in social support programs. Medications can be an important aid in treatment, but they aren’t effective for long-term recovery when used alone.

How long a person receives methadone as part of their treatment varies depending on the person and their specific situation. However, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse publication Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition), the length of methadone treatment should be a minimum of 12 months.

Some patients may require long-term maintenance. However, no matter the duration of methadone treatment, patients should work with their MAT practitioner to gradually reduce their methadone dosage to prevent withdrawal.

There are many forms of methadone that physicians can prescribe for either use. These include tablet, liquid, and powder forms. Dispersible tablets should be dissolved in water or a citrus-flavored drink, and all of the liquid should be drunk. There is also an injectable form of methadone used in certain circumstances.

Side Effects and Risks of Methadone

Prescription methadone is typically strictly controlled, but that doesn’t mean there are no risks or side effects. All opioids can cause constipation, drowsiness, slowed breathing, heart rhythm disruptions, nausea, and more. Methadone is generally considered safe when taken as prescribed and when a doctor carefully monitors doses.

However, there is only a small difference between a safe dose and a dangerous dose of methadone. Therefore, users should only change doses on the order of a doctor, and patients should inform their doctor of any changes in how they feel after a dose change.

Methadone Misuse

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that about 5,000 deaths annually occur due to methadone overdose, and the problem is only growing. Six times as many people died due to methadone overdose in 2009 than in 1999. 

The increase in abuse is so pronounced that many physicians are taking a stand to prevent the dangerous effects of methadone misuse in their patients. Physicians have also found that education is a productive way to impress the dangers of methadone on their patients and their loved ones.

When methadone is misused, there is an increased risk of opioid overdose due to the unknown strength of methadone that users may have obtained illegally as well as risks of tampering and contamination with other toxic substances that can heighten the effects of methadone or be dangerous on their own. Furthermore, if injected, methadone misuse can also expose a person to HIV, hepatitis C, and other diseases.

One of the first treatment steps for methadone addiction and abuse is a methadone detox, often done using a combination of non-habit-forming medical interventions to support someone while the methadone slowly leaves their system. Physicians should tailor each detoxification plan to the individual for the best success.

Physicians should also pair a methadone detox with treatments and therapies aimed at addressing the causes that contributed to the development of addiction. This can include individual and group counseling, the development of healthy coping skills, life planning, and diagnosis of underlying mental health conditions. In addition, understanding what led to addiction can be an important part of preventing relapse.

Do you or a loved one currently suffer from methadone addiction? If so, there are many safe, effective treatments available, and treatment centers like Agape Detox Center offer specialized care to aid you on the road to recovery. So reach out to our admissions specialists today to take the first step toward treatment and recovery.

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