How It Works and Is It Safe?
Of all medications that are used in the treatment of addiction, none have been studied more intensely or monitored more closely than methadone. Prescribed in the form of a dissolvable tablet or a liquid solution that is taken daily, methadone affects a person’s central nervous system to prevent opioid withdrawal and reduce cravings for continued use. Methadone has been used in opiate recovery programs since the 1960s and decades of clinical research attest both to its effectiveness and to its safety.
Multiple studies have found that, when used as directed by a qualified healthcare provider, methadone poses no significant short-term or long-term health risks. Experts who reviewed methadone research that methadone is medically safe and non-toxic. These experts noted that most of its side effects are temporary, and usually only occur during the induction phase of treatment, when a client is working with his or her provider to determine the ideal dosing level.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a statement confirming that methadone can be safely used by pregnant women who are struggling with opioid addiction. The DHSS determined that methadone treatment during pregnancy does not pose any detrimental health risks to a mother or her baby.
Of course, like virtually any medication, methadone can be dangerous if used in a manner that is inconsistent with the directions of the prescribing professional. Methadone overdose is a very real risk for those who abuse it for recreational purposes, especially those who are also abusing other substances. Methadone overdose accounts for about one-third of all prescription medication deaths each year. However, it is important to understand that these deaths are associated with illicit abuse of methadone, not participation in a licensed medication management program.
When used as directed under the supervision of a qualified provider as part of a comprehensive medication assisted treatment program, methadone is safe.
The Effectiveness of Methadone Treatment
Thanks to decades of data, experts can confidently state that, in addition to being safe, methadone is extremely effective in the treatment of opioid and opiate addiction. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declares that “methadone maintenance treatment is the most effective treatment for opiate addiction.”
In addition to noting that methadone is a cost-effective means of reducing addiction, the CDC notes that multiple studies have documented the following successes associated with methadone maintenance treatment:
- Reducing or stopping addiction & drug use
- Reducing risk of overdose
- Reducing risk of developing HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C
- Significantly increasing life expectancy (the median death rate of opiate addicts who enroll in methadone treatment is 30 percent lower than among those who do not get this treatment)
- Lesser likelihood of engaging in criminal activities
- Improved family stability and employment potential
- Improved outcomes for pregnant women and their babies
When it is used as directed as part of a licensed medication assisted treatment program, methadone is effective.
Benefits of Methadone Treatment Plus Counseling
Of course, methadone is just one part of a comprehensive medication assisted treatment program. Methadone alleviates drug cravings and withdrawal pain, which provides clients with the mental clarity to be productive participants in the therapeutic elements of their treatment program. One way to look at this is that methadone addresses the physical symptoms of addiction, while counseling and therapy address the underlying issues that contributed to the development of the addiction in the first place.
How You Can Be Successful in a Medication Assisted Treatment Program: While methadone has a clear record of both safety and effectiveness, it is important to understand that this medication is not a “wonder drug.” No drug or medication can solve all of a person’s problems or make the changes that are necessary to live a health life. That part of the transformation requires time, effort, and dedication. When you enroll in a medication assisted treatment program, you will enter into partnership with doctors, nurses, and counselors who have specific expertise in helping people just like you overcome problems very similar to the ones that you are experiencing. By listening to their advice, following their directions, and playing an active role in your treatment, you can significantly increase the likelihood that your time in treatment will put you on firm footing to walk the path of long-term recovery.
How to Support Your Loved One During Medication Assisted Treatment: The first rule of being a supportive spouse, family member, or friend is that you cannot take care of others unless you first take care of yourself. Your loved one’s life has clearly been damaged by opiate addiction, but you have been impacted, too. In order to provide the best possible support for your loved one, consult with the treatment program or other experts who can help you find the resources and support that you need. Educate yourself about the disease of addiction, understand the benefits and limitations of treatment, and learn what your loved one will need from you both during early recovery and over the long-term. Family therapy, support groups for loved ones of recovering addicts, and individual counseling are excellent sources of both education and encouragement. Also, never forget to provide the best care for your loved one, you need to take care of your needs, too.
The Side Effects of Methadone
The following are among potential side effects associated with methadone use:
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Sleep problems
- Exhaustion or fatigue
- Dry mouth
- Abdominal pain
- Slowed breathing
- Skin rashes
- Hypotension (low blood pressure)
For specific information about the side effects of methadone use, and to learn how this medication may affect you, please consult with your healthcare provider or contact an Indiana Comprehensive Treatment Center.