Methadone Maintenance Treatment | Pros & Cons

Therapeutic use of methadone should be paired with counseling, behavioral health therapies, and other forms of support through a personalized addiction treatment program.

Methadone, a fully synthetic opioid painkiller, has been approved by the FDA to treat opioid use disorder since 1972. It remains a common and well-regarded treatment option for opioid addiction recovery and harm reduction.

But while methadone has helped numerous Americans deal with opioid dependence and addiction, there are both advantages and disadvantages to methadone treatment that should be considered before treatment begins.

Understanding Methadone Maintenance Treatment

Methadone treatment is a form of medication-assisted treatment that helps individuals with opioid use disorder better manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

While methadone is itself an opioid agonist like heroin, oxycodone, and morphine, methadone is very long acting with a half-life of between 12-18 hours or longer, compared to around three hours or less for morphine.

This means that methadone stays active in the body for an extended period of time and binds to opioid receptors like any other opioid/opiate drug. However, its unique properties mean that it will not cause euphoria or get a person high, especially in clinical settings.

In the course of methadone maintenance treatment (MMT), methadone is taken on a daily basis while under medical supervision as a part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes counseling and psychosocial/behavioral health interventions.

Methadone Maintenance Treatment: Pros

Methadone is effective in relieving both drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms, providing a wide-range of benefits to those who participate in methadone treatment programs.

In fact, while other medication-assisted treatments, including buprenorphine, are available for those addicted to opioid drugs, methadone is considered an effective option for moderately severe and severe cases.

Specific benefits of methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) include:

  • the length of time MMT has been studied and tested by treatment providers
  • increased long-term retention and participation in recovery addiction treatment programs
  • reduced risk of injection drug abuse and infectious disease transmission, including hepatitis and HIV risk
  • reduced criminal activity linked to illicit drug use
  • reduced non-opioid substance use
  • improved quality of life
  • improved social functioning
  • safe for use by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding

Methadone Maintenance Treatment: Cons

Disadvantages and concerns surrounding methadone maintenance programs include:

  • methadone can potentially be abused and is known to cause serious drug dependence over time
  • that methadone is a long-term treatment option that cannot be started or stopped abruptly
  • discontinuing methadone requires a medically supervised weaning/detoxification process, or else may trigger severe withdrawal symptoms
  • methadone is not always available in take-home doses, with many states requiring individuals to visit specialized methadone clinics daily to receive their necessary dose
  • take-home doses are small and require participants to account for every dose of methadone and conform to certain strict regulations
  • there is a risk of severe complications and overdose events if methadone is abused with other substances, including alcohol and benzodiazepines
  • methadone is known to cause certain short and long-term side effects

Side Effects Of Methadone Maintenance Treatment

Those who choose methadone replacement therapy may experience some mild side effects, such as sedation, stomach aches, constipation, or sweating.

Serious side effects of methadone that should be referred to a healthcare professional include:

  • severe nausea and vomiting
  • slowed breathing
  • sexual dysfunction
  • restlessness
  • itchy skin

Potential long-term health effects of methadone use include dependence, tolerance, lung/respiratory problems, and potential mental changes.

Overall Effectiveness Of Methadone Maintenance Treatment

According to studies, those who take methadone while participating in an opioid treatment program are more likely to continue in treatment than those who do not receive any form of maintenance treatment.

An estimated 25% of those who participate in a methadone maintenance therapy will choose to wean off methadone, achieving abstinence. An additional 25% will continue using methadone indefinitely, which is still considered a positive treatment outcome.

The remaining 50% will eventually stop using methadone due to relapse, often resuming methadone use if and when they enroll in another substance abuse treatment program.

Methadone & Addiction Recovery Programs

Methadone is not intended to be a stand-alone solution for illicit opioid use, opioid withdrawal symptoms, or opioid addiction.

Instead, the therapeutic use of methadone should be paired with counseling, behavioral health therapies, and other forms of support through a personalized addiction treatment program.

To learn more about this cohesive treatment approach and whether methadone maintenance therapy may be the right option for you, please contact Northeast Addictions Treatment Center today.

Written by
Northeast Addition Editorial Team

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This page does not provide medical advice.

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