Methadone Maintenance for Opiate Addiction

How Long is Methadone Maintenance

methadone maintenance treatment duration

66% of all overdoses in The US are from opioids, making it the leading cause of accidental deaths in the states.

A staggering 115 people overdose from opioids every single day in The US.

Methadone was created to help with this fatal epidemic. And since then it has helped many and saved countless lives.

But unfortunately, there’s still a stigma around it. It’s still considered a controversial method to treat opioid addiction by some.

However, that stigma is unfounded. And the methadone maintenance program is proven to be safe and effective.

If you’re using methadone to detox from opioids, you should be prepared for the process. Continue reading to learn more about methadone treatment program.

What is Methadone Maintenance?

Methadone is a synthetic opioid prescribed to people suffering from opioid addiction. This is generally heroin addicts or people addicted to pain pills.

And sometimes it’s prescribed for chronic pain.

It’s typically consumed in a drink, mixed with juice. But there are methadone pills and wafers – depending on where you receive treatment.

It’s taken once a day and diminishes withdrawals and cravings. So patients can function normally, without having to use street drugs.

The methadone treatment program is more than a clinic that dispenses methadone. Clinics that dispense methadone also assist their patients in other ways.

Methadone Maintenance Treatment Clinics Offer:

  • Drug testing
  • Hep C and HIV testing
  • Yearly medical tests and assessments
  • Counseling

It’s imperative that patients on the methadone program have frequent drug testing. This helps to hold you accountable.

An incentive to stay clean and on the program is the ability to take your doses home with you. If you provide clean urine tests over a certain amount of time you earn ”carries”. Also known as “take-home doses”.

When you begin treatment, you must come in and be monitored for each dose. Working towards take-home doses gives the patients something to look forward too and a sense of freedom.

And once you reach each milestone, it’s far more likely you’ll have the desire to keep going.

How Do the Different Stages of the Process Work?

When entering the methadone maintenance program, there are various stages you go through. From the moment you walk in the door, until your very last dose after you’ve completed the program.

Intake/Starting Out

As a new patient in a methadone clinic, they’ll need to find the right dose for you. Many factors come into play when deciding your accurate dose.

But to begin, everyone starts at approximately 20-30 milligrams. Then it’ll be increased by 5-15mg increments.

It’ll take at least a few weeks to get used to the dosage increases. So you may still feel withdrawal symptoms in the first few weeks.

Methadone Maintenance Phase

The goal is to get you to a comfortable dose where you can go about your day normally. You should not feel drowsy or sleepy. You should also not be feeling any withdrawals at this point.

Once a balance has been restored in your life and you’re feeling good – you know you’re at the right dose.

Depending on various factors like weight-gain or building a tolerance, you may need to increase your dosage at some point.

Weaning Off the Program

Everybody varies when it comes to the time it takes them to taper off methadone. However, they say it should be no less than 12 months before you attempt to wean off.

Some patients will need many years, 10 years, or will be on it for the rest of their life. Ultimately that’s not the goal. But it’s not recommended to rush the process.

When someone tapers off methadone maintenance too early, they’re at high-risk of using their drug of choice again.

Always consult a doctor before tapering off your methadone. Never attempt to go cold turkey or do it at home. It’s potentially extremely dangerous.

What Are the Benefits of the Methadone Program?

The methadone maintenance treatment program can be a life-saver if you’re knee deep in addiction to opioids or heroin.

You may be skeptical to begin this journey. But it beats the alternative!

Not to mention the benefits of the methadone program are endless.

Key Benefits Of a Methadone Program:

  • No more withdrawals
  • Controlled cravings
  • Prevents death (if you were still using)
  • You receive access to counseling
  • It blocks any effects of other opioids
  • You’re able to live a normal life again

As you can see, there are loads of benefits you’ll reap once you’re on this treatment program. Despite some opinions, methadone is a safe and effective treatment.

How Long Will You Be in the Treatment Program?

As we discussed, you should stay on the methadone maintenance program for at least a year. Some require years before they’re ready. But for others about a year is sufficient.

It takes your body a while to find the right dosage, so you won’t technically ”start” until you’ve been consuming it daily for at least a few weeks. If not a month or two.

The main thing is to not get caught up on a timeline. If you’re concentrating on the timeline – you’re not being fully focused on your recovery.

Signs Your Ready to Begin Weaning:

  • You have a long history of clean urine tests
  • Cravings are a thing of the past
  • You’ve met with a counselor and gotten to the root of your issues
  • You don’t associate with people who use drugs anymore
  • You’re living a stable and healthy lifestyle

Take advantage of everything the methadone maintenance program has to offer, and when you’re ready to begin tapering off – you’ll know it.

Final Thoughts

Taking the leap into a long-term program like this can be a daunting task to initially start. You may have doubts, or even put it off.

But once you do begin methadone maintenance, your life that seemed so dark and pointless, becomes a life full of purpose again.

With the whopping amount of people overdosing every year in the US – it’s a gamble with your life. Not one you should be taking.

Are you or a loved one suffering from an opioid addiction? What has been the most challenging aspect? Let us know below in the comment section!

Sources


[1] Understanding the Epidemic | Drug Overdose | CDC Injury Center. (2018, December 19). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html

[2] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Messages from the Director | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/directors-page/messages-director/2008/08/methadone-appropriate-use-provides-valuable-treatment-pain-addiction

[3] Methadone | SAMHSA – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015, 28). Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/treatment/methadone

 

 

About the author

Dr. Michael Carlton, MD.

Leading addictionologist, Michael Carlton, M.D. has over 25 years of experience as a medical practitioner. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and returned for his MD from the College of Medicine at the University of Arizona in 1990. He completed his dual residency in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics and his Fellowship in Toxicology at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center and Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

He has published articles in the fields of toxicology and biomedicine, crafted articles for WebMD, and lectured to his peers on medication-assisted treatment. Dr. Carlton was a medical director of Community Bridges and medically supervised the medical detoxification of over 30,000 chemically dependent patients annually.

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