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Facts About Methadone Therapy

What is the real truth about methadone therapy?
What is the real truth about methadone therapy?

There are many myths and misunderstandings about methadone therapy that cause people to put off treatment with methadone to control opiate addiction. Some people have difficulty tolerating the idea of reporting to a methadone treatment program on a daily basis. Many people hesitate because they worry about the cost, although in some states, many aspects of treatment are covered at least to some extent by their insurance carrier.

Other people refuse to consider it because their family and friends tell them that methadone therapy is just another form of substance abuse. That myth is harmful when it keeps people from therapy, considering that methadone is a medication approved by the federal government for use in treating opiate addiction. It is much easier on the body than other opiates, and its effects last 24 hours a day. Methadone therapy means the person can start their day by taking their medication—the same way that a diabetic takes their insulin—and go on to live that day and each one that follows to the fullest extent possible.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) joins the federal government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in the support of methadone therapy to control opiate addiction. Here are some of the facts it presents to help you if you’re on the fence about getting help, and you can also use these facts to educate your family members who have questions.

In what ways is methadone considered to be an effective treatment for opiate addiction?

It will stop you from using drugs illegally, so your days of living each day looking over your shoulder for the police will be over. Because you will no longer be using or sharing needles, you can be tested for HIV and hepatitis and you will no longer be at risk for contracting those dreaded diseases. Many people exchange sexual favors to get drugs, or they make poor sexual decisions while they’re high, and that will also cease. You will get a physical when you begin treatment, and your health issues will be addressed.

Is methadone therapy more successful than other substance abuse treatment?

Yes, it is. Methadone was compared to other forms of treatment in many other studies that were summarized in five meta-studies. The meta-studies combined the results of 52 studies, actually, that involved over 12,000 participants. Methadone therapy was compared to detox alone and other abstinence-based therapies. It was also compared to a drug called levacetylmethadol, or LAAM, which was discontinued in 2003 because it contributed to cardiac problems, and methadone therapy succeeded over LAAM therapy.

What doses of methadone work best?

Many people think, because of the stigma involved, that they will go into methadone therapy but refuse high doses. Unfortunately, symptoms of withdrawal and cravings to keep using will break through low-dose therapy. Everybody starts out at a low dose, around 30 mg daily, because the doctor has to evaluate how your body responds to methadone therapy. However, doses gradually but efficiently increase to a level that suits each person, and most people succeed on doses somewhere between 60 and 100 mg. Granted, some people require more and some take less, but the average dose lies somewhere between those numbers.

Does methadone therapy last forever?

Just like their worry over the amount of the dose, many people fret over how long they should stay in treatment. The length of time is something that should be discussed between a doctor and a patient, but people are more likely to succeed if they accept the idea of remaining in treatment over the long term. One study showed that people who go into methadone therapy and decide to detox from methadone at the end of a year will relapse 70 percent of the time. However, the longer you are in treatment, the more take-home doses you can earn, reducing the need to report to a clinic for daily medication, and increasing the freedom that returns to you control of your life. Remember, someone with hypertension or diabetes takes their medication for life, and the decisions you make regarding methadone therapy will be between you and your doctor.

Can a person on methadone therapy live a normal life?

The answer is a resounding YES! Research has again been utilized to prove the difference in quality of life. A heroin or pain pill addict spends their life either high, normal, or sick. Whether they are using heroin or pain pills, they must obtain a new dose several times throughout the day, and so they waver back and forth along the continuum of high-normal-sick. They wake up sick, followed by a quick boost up to the high category when they take their first dose, and they go up and down throughout the course of the day.

Methadone lasts at least 24 hours in the system, however, so the person on methadone therapy wakes up still feeling in the normal range from their dose the day before. Soon after waking they take a dose regulated by a physician, and so it maintains their feeling of equilibrium without sending them into the state of being high. Throughout the day they remain in the normal range, and they go to bed feeling satisfied with their day and resting well. If they skip a dose for some reason, they will continue to feel well throughout that day and will only begin to register in the sick range the following morning.

How will my health be improved through methadone therapy?

Studies show that methadone therapy reduces or eliminates the use of needles among addicts. NIDA cites a three-year study conducted in Baltimore and Philadelphia in which 71 percent of patients stopped using needles. Of those who left treatment, 82 percent relapsed and began injecting drugs again.

Treatment with methadone also includes screening for infectious diseases, including tuberculosis, hepatitis, and HIV, and people who test positive find that treatment options for both hepatitis and HIV are more accessible and successful than ever before. The days of The Dallas Buyers Club are fading thankfully into the past.

Moreover, people in methadone therapy develop better health in other ways. Their attention to nutrition improves. They stop the drug lifestyle, and so they sleep more and get quality exercise. Dental and stomach problems are common among drug addicts. In fact, whatever physical problems they may have experienced are finally addressed when they’re in treatment. Whether they need treatment for diabetes, thyroid disorders, hypertension, oral hygiene, or any ailment, they finally get attention and enjoy better health.

Will I be more likely to find a job if I’m in methadone therapy?

Many people believe that they cannot work if they have to report to a methadone therapy program on a daily basis. However, that’s just another myth. NIDA reports that in a study of 100 chronic heroin abusers, 21 percent of them were employed at the time they began treatment. At the end of a year, 65 percent of them had found gainful employment.

Being in methadone therapy does not mean you need to tell your boss. You have a right to confidentiality. You can get a note from the doctor at the methadone clinic to excuse your absences for treatment, and you really have no obligation to tell your boss why. You can simply say that you take medication that requires daily monitoring or lab testing, if you feel that you have to say anything at all. If they ask you what that medication could possibly be, you can decline to answer. But many people feel awkward refusing, and so it’s better to have an answer ready, such as, “It just controls a biosystemic congenital condition I have.” Your boss will spend a while thinking that one over.

Education Is the Key

At the end of the day, it’s important to be well educated about methadone before you decide to begin treatment. In order to gain the approval of your loved ones, you may want to share this information with them as well. Remember that the key to overcoming any obstacle in life is to learn about it! You can call your local methadone treatment program to learn more.

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