Methadone Treatment Approaches

Basic Facts about Methadone Treatment

A Fact Sheet on the website of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) features the following information about methadone treatment for individuals who are struggling with opiate addiction:

  • Methadone is a rigorously well-tested medication that is safe and efficacious for the treatment of narcotic withdrawal and dependence
  • Methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) provides the heroin addict with individualized health care and medically prescribed methadone to relieve withdrawal symptoms, reduces the opiate craving, and brings about a biochemical balance in the body.
  • About 20 percent of heroin addicts in the United States are currently receiving methadone maintenance treatment (MMT).
  • When used as prescribed and under a physician's care, research and clinical studies suggest that long-term methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) is medically safe.
  • Methadone produces no serious side effects, does not impair cognitive functions and has no adverse effects on mental capability, intelligence, or employability

Improved Access to Methadone Treatment

At the end of the 20th century (in July 1999), with more than 30 years of data available on the use and efficacy of methadone in opiate addiction treatment programs, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHSS) authorized increased access to methadone maintenance treatment for individuals who seek professional help to overcome an addiction to heroin and other opiates.

To accomplish this goal – and to provide more options both for opiate-addicted individuals and the healthcare providers who treat them with methadone-assisted protocols) -- the DHSS released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that contained the following guidance:

  • Methadone should methadone “take its rightful place as a clinical tool in the treatment of the heroin addict.”
  • Instead of methadone’s use being mandated by regulations, methadone maintenance programs should establish quality assurance guidelines and must be accredited (by national and/or state organizations.
  • The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency would retain responsibility for preventing methadone from being illegally acquired for illicit use.

The Safety of Methadone Maintenance Treatment (MMT)

More than three decades’ worth of research and clinical studies document the safety of methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) when used as part of an appropriate addiction recovery program. The ONDCP Fact Sheet referenced earlier also includes the following statements regarding the safety of methadone maintenance treatment (MMT):

  • When methadone is taken under medical supervision, long-term maintenance causes no adverse effects to the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, bones, blood, brain, or other vital body organs.
  • Some patients experience minor symptoms (for example, constipation, water retention, drowsiness, skin rash, excessive sweating, and changes in libido); however, when patients’ methadone dosage has been adjusted to proper levels, or their tolerance for methadone increases) these effects usually fade.
  • Methadone is not sedating or intoxicating, nor does it interfere with ordinary activities such as driving a car or operating machinery.
  • For methadone patients, typical street doses of heroin are ineffective at producing euphoria, making the use of heroin less desirable.

Benefits of Methadone Maintenance Treatment (MMT)

In addition to being safe when taken as part of an approved and properly supervised addiction recovery program, methadone offers a range of benefits to individuals who may have otherwise been incapable of overcoming addictions to heroin, oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin) and other opiates.

As enumerated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the benefits of methadone maintenance treatment include the following:

  • Reduced mortality (the median death rate of opiate-dependent individuals in methadone maintenance treatment is 30 percent of the rate of those not in MMT)
  • Reduced risk of overdose
  • Reduced risk of acquiring or transmitting diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B or C
  • Reduced criminal activity
  • Improved family stability
  • Enhanced employment potential
  • Improved outcomes for pregnant women and their children

Conclusion

Few medical treatment protocols in the United States have been as closely monitored and regulated as has methadone maintenance therapy (MMT). As a result of decades’ worth of documentation and analysis, experienced healthcare providers who work in the opiate addiction treatment field are well versed in the efficacy of methadone in the effort to overcome opiate dependency.

When taken under the supervision of a qualified healthcare provider, methadone is a safe and effective medication that can significantly increase an individual’s ability to overcome an addiction to opiates such as heroin, oxycodone and hydrocodone.

 

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