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Methadone Addiction And The Best Rehab Centers For Treatment

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

February 12, 2019

A synthetic opioid developed by the Germans in the 1930s, Methadone acts on the same opioid receptors as heroin and morphine and is used to manage chronic pain as well as treat opioid-dependent individuals. Sold under brand names that include Dolophine, Diskets, and Methadose, it is delivered orally or via injection.

How Does Methadone Work?

In mediation of chronic pain, methadone works by altering the body’s threshold for pain. In addition to working with opioid receptors, methadone inhibits N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA), receptors that relay pain signals to the brain. It is an effective drug for treating chronic pain due to its affordability and long-lasting effects. The half-life of methadone is far longer than morphine and can typically be taken once a day, versus multiple times per day as with morphine.

Methadone Maintenance For Opioid Dependence

When used in conjunction with detox and addiction counseling, methadone is also an effective medication to combat heroin and other opioid addictions. By reducing exposure to high-risk activities related to illegal drug-use, exposure to crime and disease are also lessened.

Methadone works to reduce side effects of withdrawal from opioids like heroin while also reducing or eliminating cravings for the drug. Methadone prevents a user from getting high from other opioids by blocking all available opioid receptors.

Someone who uses opioids after taking methadone will not experience euphoria or the usual high, but will instead experience the negative side effects associated with overuse of opioid medications including fatigue, nausea, and depression of breathing functions and heart rate. Some studies suggest prescribed use of methadone may help normalize brain function in long-term opioid dependent persons.

Characterized as a medication to treat addiction, rather than a replacement drug, when used properly, methadone allows individuals otherwise unable to participate in work or social activities, the ability to do so as they detox from heroin.

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Is Methadone Addictive?

Methadone, like other opioids, depresses the central nervous system, altering a person’s awareness of pain. Methadone addiction typically occurs when a person using the drug for pain, self-medicates or increases his or her dosage.

Unlike other opioids, methadone, when taken as prescribed, will not generate euphoria. However, due to the long half-life of the drug in the system, if someone increases their dose, they may induce an initial high. Methadone is a drug that is reactivated within the body over time, so taking additional doses may lead to serious side effects and physical dependency.

Side effects from abuse of methadone are similar to other opioids and may include reduced heart rate, difficulty breathing, and muscle weakness. Studies have shown a decrease in memory and recall function with long-term abuse of the drug.

Each year, nearly a third of all prescription-related overdose deaths involve methadone. Nearly all of these deaths were due to the methadone-addicted individuals abusing or using the drug in conjunction with other illicit or legal drugs.

Methadone may remain active in the system for nearly sixty hours after consumption, so individuals prescribed daily doses may develop symptoms related to toxicity. The most common dangerous side effects are difficulty breathing and heart arrhythmias.

Side Effects From Overdose Include:

  • involuntary muscle movement
  • difficult breathing
  • weak pulse
  • tachycardia
  • bluish tint appearing at extremities
  • severe constipation
  • disorientation
  • coma

Methadone Overdose Statistics

The number of methadone-related deaths rose significantly from 1999 to 2006, corresponding with a spike in doctor-prescribed use of the drug for pain. By 2006, the FDA had to issue federal guidelines cutting the initial starting dose of the drug and warning of adverse side effects when the drug was used in conjunction with other drugs.

Where methadone can be highly effective for the purpose of relieving opioid-addicted persons from withdrawal, it can become an avenue for addiction and generate dangerous side effects when not carefully monitored or taken as prescribed. Withdrawal from methadone can be as challenging as heroin and longer lasting.

Today, partial opioid antagonist drugs like Suboxone and Subutex are being used in place of methadone. These drugs have shorter lasting side effects and less serious withdrawal symptoms.

Methadone Addiction Treatment

Methadone addiction, especially when paired with other addictions, requires a comprehensive treatment plan. Most treatment plans include detoxification coupled with ongoing counseling. Withdrawals from methadone can include depression, headache, nausea and vomiting, a rapid heart rate, and disorientation.

Due to the severity of symptoms related to methadone withdrawal, a graduated reduction in dosage is recommended. Reactivation of the drug in the system may lead to a longer withdrawal period of a week or more following cessation of the drug. It is essential the person undergoing treatment from methadone addiction receive adequate medical care and supervision.

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