What Is Methadone?
Methadone is a prescription drug that’s often used as part of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) programs for people who are addicted and dependent on opioids. Methadone can also be used as a pain reliever for pain that’s moderate to severe in intensity.
Methadone is classified as an opioid, also known as narcotics. As with other opioids, methadone affects the central nervous system. It binds to opioid receptor sites, which helps change how pain signals are sent and the emotional response to pain that a person has. Methadone also slows down the central nervous system.
When methadone is used to treat opioid dependence, it’s a type of replacement drug. Someone can use methadone to prevent withdrawal symptoms and cravings if they’re trying to stop using other opioids.
Methadone is available in different forms. It can be taken as a tablet, a tablet that can be dissolved, and a solution. If someone’s prescribed methadone to treat pain, it’s usually only taken every 8 to 12 hours, because it’s long-lasting. Brand name versions of methadone include Dolophine and Methadose.
Some of the side effects that may occur with methadone include:
- Changes in sexual function
- Problems breathing
- Nausea or vomiting
Treating Opioid Addiction with Methadone
While it’s fairly common to use methadone to help treat opioid addiction, it’s not without controversy and criticism. Methadone is most often used to help treat heroin dependence. While it’s an opioid itself, it’s a milder, weaker opioid than most others. When someone uses it, it has a slow onset, and that lowers the potential for abuse.
Methadone doesn’t typically have the intense euphoric high of other opioids, and it can help with withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms can be a big deterrent for people who want to stop using opioids like heroin.
Despite the weaker function of methadone, a high is still possible. There can actually be a greater risk of overdosing on methadone than some other opioids. This is because methadone is weak, so larger doses might be used to try and achieve a high. This can overwhelm the brain of the user, triggering an overdose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that almost one-third of all deadly overdoses in the United States involve methadone.
What Is a Methadone Clinic?
If you have ever heard of a methadone clinic before, you may have wondered what it is. Essentially, this is an outpatient clinic where people go to receive methadone to help treat opioid dependence.
Doctors and medical professionals staff methadone clinics and distribute the drug. There are both public and private methadone clinics throughout the United States.
In the U.S., it’s law that methadone can only be given by a federally-certified opioid treatment program.
When someone visits a methadone clinic, they typically don’t receive the drug right away. What might happen instead is that they’re given a slew of tests and assessments first. These can include blood and urine tests, and then they’re also educated on the methadone treatment program, the rules of participation, and what the objectives are.
If someone is part of a medication-assisted treatment program, they should also be participating in counseling or some type of addiction treatment services while they’re using methadone.
In some cases, people have to go to the clinic to receive each dose of their methadone, and in other cases, patients may be able to do it at home.
Methadone clinics are not only problematic because of the potential for abuse and overdose that’s associated with the drug, but also because they are difficult to access for many people. People may have to travel very far to visit a methadone clinic, and it can also show in urine tests.
It was touched on above that methadone overdoses can be a significant risk, and occur at a very high rate in the United States. When someone is using methadone, they shouldn’t use other central nervous system depressants such as alcohol, benzodiazepines or other opioids.
Signs of a methadone overdose can include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Low blood pressure
- Weak pulse
- Slow, shallow or stopped breathing
- Cold, clammy skin
- Fingernails and lips with a bluish tint
Methadone Withdrawal and Dependence
Even though methadone is often used to wean people off more potent opioids like heroin, eventually that person is going to need to be weaned off methadone as well. Methadone dependence is similar to dependence on any other opioid. Some of the possible methadone withdrawal signs can include:
- Hot flashes
A person going through methadone withdrawal will very likely need professional help to do so, particularly if they used other opioids for a long time before using methadone.
To learn more about methadone addiction and dependence, and what the potential risks of this drug are, contact Amethyst Recovery Center.