Methadone Detox for Heroin Addiction
Methadone is a medication used to help people complete detox from heroin. It is commonly used for withdrawal. But some people may be on the medication long term (also known as methadone maintenance therapy).
The medication can only be prescribed in certain clinics, and its use should be combined with other forms of treatment, such as counseling.
When taken as directed, methadone can be a safe and effective means of medical detox and medication-assisted treatment for opioid dependence. However, there are some risks.
Fast Facts About Methadone
- Methadone is an opioid. Like heroin, methadone is an opioid drug that produces its effects through an interaction with opioid receptors in the brain. But unlike heroin, it has medical uses in addition to its use in detox and is sometimes prescribed for severe pain.1
- Methadone detox helps reduce withdrawal symptoms. Methadone reduces the intensity of withdrawal from heroin and other opioids. When taken regularly, methadone also blocks the euphoric effects of heroin and other opioids.2
- Methadone is effective. Research shows that methadone can help reduce drug use, crime, needle-sharing, suicide, overdose, and HIV infection rates. It can also improve health and productivity.5
- Methadone can be addictive. People who take methadone should use it exactly as prescribed. Patients should never share their medication with others.1,2
- Methadone detox is NOT rehab. Rehab means addressing both the physical and psychological dependence on opioids through a combination of detox, counseling, and aftercare. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), patients are likely to get the best results if they participate in a medication-assisted treatment program that includes counseling and social support.2
What are the Advantages?
The most prominent advantage of methadone detox is the reduced impact of heroin withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms are less intense when the individual is on methadone, and they are less likely to crave heroin. 3
Medical detox with methadone is a closely supervised process that ensures access to medical intervention should issues arise. By having someone watching over them, the individual is also less likely to relapse.
Where Does it Take Place?
Methadone can only be prescribed in a facility that SAMHSA has certified.2
At the beginning of treatment, patients usually visit the clinic daily for doses. As treatment progresses, the person may be able to take home doses with approval from their physician.3
Some people may take methadone for many years. When the person is ready to stop taking methadone, they are usually tapered off gradually under the supervision of a doctor.3
What are the Risks?
The biggest risks of methadone are overdose, addiction, and side effects.
It is possible to overdose on methadone. Symptoms include pinpoint pupils, weak breathing, clammy or blue skin, and coma. The risk of overdose is increased if a person combines methadone with alcohol or benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax).1,3
A medication called naloxone can reverse the effects of an overdose. Family members, caregivers, and loved ones can administer the medication. If an overdose occurs, give the person naloxone, call 911, and stay with them until medical help arrives.1
While safe when taken as prescribed, methadone can also be addictive. Do not take a larger dose, take it for a longer period of time than prescribed, or take it in a different way than prescribed.1
Finally, methadone can have side effects—some of which can be serious. These effects include headaches, drowsiness, constipation, and sweating. Severe side effects that require medical attention include difficulty breathing, lightheadedness, hives, chest pain, rapid breathing, and hallucinations.2,3
Is it Just Switching Addictions?
Even though methadone and heroin are both opioids, there are differences in the ways the drugs work and are taken.
Methadone is prescribed by a physician, and the doses are controlled and monitored. Due to its relatively long duration of action, the medication produces stable levels of the drug in the brain. When used as directed, the drug’s effects come on gradually, and there is no “rush.” The person can receive treatment for addiction and function in their day-to-day life. People on the medication are usually able to work and perform daily tasks like driving.3,4
In contrast, heroin’s effects come on very quickly, peak in intensity, and then rapidly wear off, leaving the user craving more. They often take the drug multiple times a day, which disrupts many areas of their life.4
Who Should Consider this Method?
Any individual who is suffering with a heroin addiction can consider methadone detox for their recovery.
Methadone may be a good choice for those who:3
- Have made other unsuccessful attempts to quit heroin.
- Are addicted to heroin and also pregnant.
- Are being treated for HIV/AIDS.
- Have chronic pain.
People who would like to start methadone treatment must be able to travel to a treatment program every day.3
Are you ready to begin your recovery from heroin addiction? Do you know someone who needs help with a heroin problem? You can begin to look for rehab centers using the directory on this website.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2018). Methadone.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Methadone.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). Decisions in Recovery: Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Is the use of medications like methadone and buprenorphine simply replacing one addiction with another?
- NIDA International Program. Methadone Research Web Guide: Part B: 20 Questions and Answers Regarding Methadone Maintenance Treatment Research.
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