Essential Information about Methadone “Maintenance”

Is Methadone Treatment right for you?

I have no idea — that is for a doctor or treatment center to decide. The good news is that if you are addicted to Heroin (Opioids) you have options, to get clean and sober. This is the last article of a three-part series about Medication Assisted Treatment for Heroin Addiction. The other two drugs I reviewed are Suboxone and Naltrexone.

Methadone is a long-acting opioid medication that is used (combined with counseling and treatment) to help addicts stop using heroin. This is Called Methadone Medication Treatment or MMT for short.

Pro's and Con's Heroin
There are pros and cons to methadone treatment. There is also a history of controversy.

MMT helps normalize your body’s functions that have been damaged by the use of heroin or other opioids. Opioids are a group of drugs that act on the central nervous system. They include codeine, morphine, and heroin as well as synthetic drugs such as oxycodone, oxycontin, hydrocodone, and methadone.

Appropriate MMT can provide several benefits:

  • Reduces or eliminates craving for opioid drugs
  • Prevents the onset of withdrawal for 24 hours or more
  • Blocks the effects of other opioids
  • Promotes increased physical and emotional health
  • Raises the overall quality of life for the addict
  • Who might be a good Methadone candidate?

You could be a candidate …..Have you been through detoxification and found you couldn’t feel normal? MMT can allow you to regain a sense of “normal”.  Have you been using opioids such as heroin, codeine, or oxycodone but can’t seem to stop? MMT might help you quit using those drugs and focus your life. In short, beginning MMT can help stabilize and improve your health and can move you toward getting the care you need.

Methadone Maintence
In-depth information about Methadone Maintenance

Recovery to a normal life is possible. You should stay in treatment as long as you are benefiting from it. The length of time you stay in MMT is an issue that should be decided solely by you and your physician. Some people are in MMT only for a few weeks, while others choose to stay in MMT indefinitely.

The longer you’ve been addicted, the more likely it is that you would benefit from being on methadone. Those who withdraw from methadone after short-term treatment is more likely to return to drug use than those who stay in treatment until they have obtained the optimal benefits.

Remember the risks that come with drug use: high rates of HIV and Hepatitis C infection among people who inject drugs, greater odds of committing crimes and going to prison, and possible death from overdose.

When can I stop taking Methadone?

If you are thinking about ending MMT, talk with the doctor at the program. It can be a slow process to taper off of methadone. Though doses are tapered slowly to reduce withdrawal symptoms, you may experience some aching, insomnia, and lack of appetite for a few weeks. You also may feel a sense of loss, sadness, and sleeplessness for months. However, over time this should dissipate. Long-term withdrawal can take from 6 months up to a year before you can completely taper off of methadone treatment. You should probably not set time limitations on yourself. You might want to taper off at your own pace – the one that you decided with your doctor. Throughout treatment (and after treatment) maintain a tight support network.

Methadone Tips

  • Methadone usually works best when it’s taken once a day at the same time every day.
  • You drink your dose of methadone, usually in a mixture with orange juice.
  • It takes a few days to feel the full effects of a dose adjustment.
  • Taking other drugs may interfere with the adjustment of your dose.
  • Taking more opioids won’t get you high, but you could overdose.
  • Hang in there—give it 2 to 6 weeks to find the right dose.

Dealing With Methadone Side Effects

Methadone maintenance carries some side effects:
Constipation. Eat foods that are high in fiber and drink plenty of water. You also should avoid foods that are high in fat; they are harder to digest and tend to make your system sluggish.
Excessive sweating. Adjusting the dose may stop the sweating, and there are other medications available to help control this.
Changes in sex drive. Some people on methadone have a low sex drive and are unable to have an orgasm. You may be taking a medication that affects your sex drive. Talk with your doctor about possible treatments that will improve this side effect.

Combinations With Methadone That Can Result in Withdrawal Syndrome

Opiate analogs such as:

  • Nubain
  • Talwin
  • Stadol

Opiate antagonists such as:

  • Naloxone
  • Naltrexone

Partial agonists such as:

  • Buprenorphine
  • Alcohol

Mixing Methadone With Other Drugs Can Be Dangerous

Methadone interacts with many medications. This can change the safety of the methadone you are taking and potentially can cause withdrawal. It is important to tell your doctor about all of the drugs you take.

Quick Information on Methadone

On the plus side – when methadone is taken as directed:

  • It can improve your health.
  • Methadone will not cause euphoria.
  • Methadone will not make you sick.
  • Methadone will not affect your immune system.
  • Methadone does not damage your teeth and bones.
  • Methadone does not make you gain weight.

Methadone Bottom Line

Getting off Heroin is not easy, and it really needs to be done is a treatment program lasting from 30-90 days. The longer you stay in a program, the better your chances of lifetime sobriety. But, you should be comforted to learn that there are three kinds of medications that might help your withdrawal symptoms and give you a chance to finally get the dragon off your back.