How Well Does Methadone Treatment Work?

Often when people discuss methadone as a viable treatment option, you get a lot of myth mixed in with the truth, because everything you hear is not based on fact.

Methadone is one option for the treatment of opiate addiction. As with many treatments in the therapeutic process, it is a tool for assisting people in overcoming addiction. Methadone is not a cure-all, it does allow people the time to work on their problems and not be constantly craving drugs.

One of the most common false beliefs is that when using methadone, the person is trading one addiction for another.

This is false. Methadone is a medication. When it is used safely under the direction of a doctor, it is no different than using insulin to treat diabetes. While the individual is in methadone maintenance treatment, they will need to take methadone to avoid withdrawal symptoms, just as a diabetic is dependent on insulin. But they will not experience the compulsive thoughts and behaviors that accompany addiction.

When a person is addicted to heroin, it defines their lives, which in turn prevents them from making healthy decisions. But once an individual enters a methadone treatment program, they begin to regain control over their lives.

Methadone Facts

People who use methadone and receive supportive therapy have better outcomes than people who use methadone as a part of a short term detox program.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) recommends a minimum of one year in methadone maintenance treatment for best outcomes.

People on higher doses of methadone stay in treatment longer and have greater long term success than do people on minimal doses of methadone. The type of clinical treatment a person receives plays a large role in their success. Methadone can be used to support abstinence, but if a person is not receiving individual and group therapy while in care, the chances of long term success lessen.

Every person is different with regards to their dosage needs while using methadone. It is very important that the health care provider determines the dosage based on withdrawal symptoms and the craving for drugs.

If people are able to maintain their methadone use for at least two weeks, their chances of staying in treatment increase dramatically.

Studies have demonstrated that methadone maintenance dramatically cuts down on illicit opiate use, criminal behavior, risky sexual practices, and the transmission of HIV.

In 2005, more than 4000 people overdosed on methadone, or a combination of other drugs with methadone. This statistic demonstrates the importance of combining methadone with good clinical therapy. Methadone alone is not the cure, but it may be the necessary support to help people complete treatment.

Unlike Suboxone and Subutex, methadone has no ceiling of effect.   Even people with very heavy heroin habits can get full withdrawal symptom relief from methadone.

Methadone does no harm to major organs even if it is taken for a very long period of time.

People in methadone maintenance treatment programs have 30 percent the mortality rate of opiate users who are not in methadone maintenance treatment.

Methadone Does Work Well, but it is Not an Overnight Solution

Methadone is a support in treating opiate addiction. Unless the person in treatment is willing to participate in therapy, staying clean becomes more difficult. But for those who provide clinical interventions, having the ability to track and monitor outcomes is critical to the process. Treatment providers must be able to show a correlation between treatment tools and outcomes.

An example would be having the ability to have the dosage of methadone connected directly to a client’s treatment plan. This would allow the therapist to gauge the methadone dosage as it relates to the person’s clinical treatment progress. This can only be accomplished through the use of an electronic health record that is in integrated directly to the pump being used for methadone distribution.

By being able to provide clinical data integrated with methadone usage gives the doctor the data they need to sit the dosage for each person in care. The combination of clinical treatment and primary care sharing information will result in better outcomes for the patient.

 Because methadone’s success is increased by client participation in supportive therapy, having an outcome-based treatment program that supports the methadone treatment is key. Clinics who employ best-practices for substance abuse (including supportive therapy) have clients with the best outcomes. 

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