How Well Does Methadone Maintenance Treatment Work?

Methadone Facts and Statistics

The topic of methadone maintenance treatment elicits a wide range of opinions, but not everything that you hear about this type of treatment is based in facts.

Methadone is neither good nor evil; it is simply a proven, effective medication for the treatment of opiate addiction. Methadone probably won't solve your problems overnight, but it might allow you the peace and stability you need to get your life back on the right track.

One thing you might have heard about methadone is that while in methadone maintenance treatment, you're just "trading one addiction for another."

This is false. Once you have been stabilized on methadone, you trade addiction to a  dangerous opiate (heroin) for a dependence on a medically supervised and safe drug (methadone). While you are in methadone maintenance treatment, you will need to take methadone at regular intervals to avoid withdrawal symptoms, just as a diabetic is dependent on insulin, but you do not experience the compulsive thoughts and behaviors that define addiction.

When you were addicted to heroin, heroin defined your life and ended your ability to make good healthy choices -- but once you enter methadone maintenance treatment, you are back in the driver's seat.

Methadone Facts

  • People who use methadone for longer-term maintenance have better outcomes than people who use methadone as a part of a shorter term detox protocol.
  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recommends a minimum of one year in methadone maintenance treatment for best outcomes.
  • People on higher doses of methadone stay in treatment for longer periods of time, and have better outcomes, than do people on minimal doses of methadone. A recent medical study compared the treatment outcomes of people on 40 mgs of methadone a day and those who were taking 75 mgs of methadone a day. They found that higher doses of methadone are associated with significantly higher treatment retention (in this case a doubling between those who take 40 mgs and day and those who take 75mgs a day).
  • Every person has unique dosage needs. People can metabolize methadone quite differently, and thus dosages should not be capped by maximum recommendations. Instead, the healthcare provider who is supervising the methadone maintenance treatment should evaluate the reduction of withdrawal symptoms reduction the cessation of drug cravings in order to determine the ideal methadone dosage.
  • If people stay on methadone for longer than two weeks, there is an 80 percent chance that they will stay with their methadone maintenance treatment for six months or longer.
  • Studies show that methadone maintenance treatment dramatically reduces illicit opiate use, criminal behavior, risky sexual practices, and the transmission of HIV.
  • In 2005, more than 4,000 people fatally overdosed on methadone or methadone and other drugs together. Many of these people were using high doses of methadone in an unsupervised effort to treat pain, or were illicitly using methadone for recreational purposes.
  • Unlike Suboxone or Subutex,  methadone has no ceiling of effect. Even people with very heavy heroin habits can get full withdrawal symptom relief from methadone.
  • Methadone does not harm any major organs, even if taken for decades.
  • People in methadone maintenance treatment programs have 30 percent the mortality rate of opiate users who are not in methadone maintenance treatment

Methadone Works Well, but It's Not an Overnight Solution

Although methadone is sometimes used in a short-term detoxification protocol, methadone has shown its best results when used as a long-term maintenance medication for opiate addiction.

Methadone withdrawal can be difficult, but the medication works very well to keep you stable, free from pain, and free from drug cravings as you rebuild the infrastructure of a broken life.

Eventually, most people feel stronger and ready to slowly taper down off of methadone, but some people continue to use the drug for many years, or even for life. Methadone maintenance treatment is not a "quick fix," but it does offer the opportunity to heal the scars of previous addiction and build a sober life.

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