Methadone has a long half-life and high absorption rate. These characteristics are unique even among other “strong” opioid drugs. It also has a lower risk of side effects and illicit substance use compared to both weak and strong opioids.
Methadone is used to treat opioid use disorders by reducing cravings and managing opioid withdrawal, while still providing analgesic effects for a patient’s severe pain.
Weak Vs. Strong Opioids
The World Health Organization (WHO) has general guidelines that healthcare professionals tend to follow when prescribing opioids. In this guideline, weak opioids are the second step for treating chronic pain, following acetaminophen and non-inflammatory drugs.
Weak opioids such as codeine and tramadol may be prescribed as an alternative to habit-forming opioids like hydrocodone and fentanyl. However, there is little evidence that weak opioids have a lower health risk than strong opioids.
Strong opioids are the third step for treating chronic pain. Oxycodone, morphine, and some synthetic opioids are strong opioids that may be prescribed for this purpose.
Like weak opioids, this group of opioids can cause strong sedation, euphoric effects, and a higher risk of overdose and respiratory depression in higher doses.
Methadone As A Strong Opioid
Methadone binds to the same opioid receptors as other opioid drugs, a property of opioid agonists. Methadone also has a longer half-life than most opioids, which may contribute to positive effects of methadone such as reduced opioid cravings and a lower potential for improper drug use.
Due to methadone’s long-acting properties and ability to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms, it is a common element of medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Along with buprenorphine, another opioid agonist, a MAT program can help patients overcome opioid dependency.
Mixing methadone with other opioid drugs can cause complications, which is a common occurrence in patients going through detoxification or opioid treatment program. A patient’s dose of methadone may be monitored on a daily basis as they taper off their daily doses of other opioids.
Opioid Addiction Treatment Options
Methadone treatment is a proven, effective method for treating opioid dependence and withdrawal. Its formulations are lower-risk than other opioids on average, and methadone doses are often regulated by professionals.
Though methadone use has many potential benefits, patients may still experience the side effects of methadone, such as constipation, drowsiness, dry mouth, and even a risk of continued opioid dependence. Taking methadone as directed can lower the risk of these side effects.
To learn about our opiate addiction treatment program, including medication-assisted treatment options, please contact us today.
- British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology — Differences between opioids: pharmacological, experimental, clinical and economical perspectives
- National Institute on Drug Abuse — How do medications to treat opioid use disorder work?
- National Library of Medicine: PubMed — The role of methadone in cancer pain treatment
- National Library of Medicine: PubMed — "Weak" opioid analgesics. Codeine, dihydrocodeine and tramadol: no less risky than morphine
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Methadone
Northeast Addition Editorial Team
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