Category Archives: Methadone Blog

Medication-Assisted Treatment for Teens and Young Adults

opioid-addiction-childrenThere is increasing momentum building for opioid addiction treatment in response to the growing opioid addiction problem in the United States. Many teenagers and young adults who are being introduced to prescription opiates are at risk for developing a crippling drug dependency. The risk is increased as these youth discover that heroin is a relatively cheaper alternative than pain pills purchased on the street.

The Partnership at DrugFree.org has published a 36 page guide outlining opioid addiction and the therapeutic role that medication-assisted treatment can have even for teens and young adults. Methadone, suboxone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone are highlighted in the guide with an accompanying description of each medication and its use in opioid treatment.

Opioid replacement therapy has historically been used as a treatment of last resort in adult populations. The dilemma is that a high percentage of opioid addicted individuals are unable to remain drug free with traditional models of treatment that do not include medication assistance of some variety like naltrexone, buprenorphine, or methadone. Overcoming opioid withdrawal without effective symptom relief presents a serious obstacle in the recovery process.

The Partnership at DrugFree.org recognizes that the wave of opioid addiction in America is mounting. The news media have been covering this issue too with some regularity over the past year. Effective remedies need to be in place as all ages seek help for opiate addiction. If we are to save lives, the stigma of medication-assisted therapy and the misunderstanding around it must be finally removed.

Methadone Dosage Increases

methadone-increaseWhen a new client joins a methadone program, they go through a process called induction. Induction is the initial delivery of a methadone dose and the subsequent increases in dosage over the next 1 to 2 months as the medical team help get the client stabilized & comfortable on a dose of methadone that effectively eliminates their painful opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Induction is historically a high risk span of time since there is an increased risk of accidental overdose with methadone. It is extremely rare that overdose occurs during induction especially if clients are abstaining from other illicit substances during the induction process.

Therein lies the dilemma. Some clients become impatient with the process of methadone induction and will supplement their methadone dose with other unapproved opiates or benzodiazepines. This is dangerous and actually undermines the benefit of what methadone can achieve for the patient.

To help the treatment team determine the level of methadone increase to provide a patient, they use the Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale, or COW Scale. This is a withdrawal assessment tool that helps the clinical or medical team determine the prevalence and severity of opioid withdrawal symptoms. The scale produces a score based on the client’s reported symptoms and the team’s observation of withdrawal symptoms. The higher the COW scale score, the more severe the symptomology and thus a greater justification for allowing a higher dosage increase.

Some clinics are known to take clients up 10 mg at a time. Many physicians consider this high risk and too rapid of an increase. Note that methadone is a slow acting, long lasting opioid agonist with a much longer half life than heroin and most other prescription opioids. What this means is that methadone stays in the system much longer and builds cumulatively over time. So the actual effect of a dosage increase is not immediately felt and may take 1-3 days before the full effect of that dosage increase is realized.

With an impatient client, they may receive a dosage increase but not feel the immediate relief they were hoping for. Consequently, they may use additional unapproved opiates that then mix with the methadone increase that is still being absorbed into their system. This puts the client at risk of overdose.

Many clinics use 5 mg increases every few days while some clinics adjust each requested increase in accordance with the COW Scale score. For example, a client may receive several 5 mg increases because they have moderately severe withdrawal symptoms, but then receive a 3 mg increase days later and possibly a 2 mg increase days after that as the symptom severity begins to diminish. This more cautious approach reduces the risk of overdose while still addressing the client’s unresolved physical discomfort.

A well-managed methadone induction is tailored to the individual client’s needs, and the client’s safety is always the chief concern. Methadone dosage increases are provided only to alleviate measurable physical withdrawal symptoms or closely associated anxiety, restlessness, or psychological distress from withdrawal.

Opioid Addiction in the United States

methadone-counselingThe U.S. has experienced a steady rise in the number of people being prescribed opioids and in the number of individuals becoming physically addicted to these medications. In the 1970′s and 1980′s, the typical methadone program client was someone who had graduated to daily IV heroin use.

Fast forward to 2013 and the typical methadone program participant may well be someone who has never used heroin or any kind of injectable drug. With the rise of oxycontin over a decade ago and other popular painkillers, opioid addiction in America moved to unprecedented levels. With this new epidemic level of opiate addiction has come an increasing number of overdose deaths.

Within the last 10 years, Tennessee was for several of those years the nationwide leader in the number of prescribed opioids per resident and the number of opioid overdose deaths. Many of these fatalities were the resulting combination of mixing opioids with benzodiazepines like xanax, klonopin, and ativan. Today, many opioid treatment programs and independent physicians are using much greater caution in prescribing benzodiazepines in their practice, and some have opted out of this completely due to the significant medical risk involved.

As the resulting need for treatment options began to grow, the availability of local methadone programs increased as did the total number of U.S. physicians who were approved to prescribe suboxone. Both methadone and suboxone have been enormously beneficial in helping addicted people gain a new lease on life. These opioid replacement medications, combined with counseling, provided hope for a life after opioid addiction. Unless someone has experienced the ravages of a drug addiction, they may be unable to fully comprehend the benefit provided by opioid treatment using methadone or suboxone.

In the final analysis, we as a nation must guard against the overuse of prescription painkillers. And individuals must exercise due caution and care since there is no substitute for personal responsibility and good personal judgment. As America moves forward in the coming year, we must strive to prevent drug abuse where we can through education and prevention efforts. We must also recognize and support the concept that addiction is a treatable illness, and that methadone and suboxone are an essential element in the opioid addiction solution.

Zubsolv For Treating Opioid Dependence

zubsolve-methadoneDr. Jana Burson made a recent post about the newly FDA-approved medication for treating opioid dependence called Zubsolv. Zubsolv is manufactured by a Swedish pharmaceutical company, Orexo.

Zubsolv is a new sublingual (tablet dissolved under the tongue) formulation of buprenorphine and naloxone that is taken once daily to eliminate opioid withdrawal symptoms. As an alternative to suboxone or methadone, Zubsolv was approved in July 2013 as a medication which may be prescribed by physicians for the maintenance treatment of dependency on opioids.

The medication is meant to be taken in conjunction with counseling so as to help the patient learn the necessary skills for avoiding opioid relapse. The sublingual tablet is designed to dissolve in about 5 minutes when held under the tongue.

New products such as Zubsolv bring additional choices to those suffering with opioid addiction. As new products enter the market, there is an improved chance that once costly opioid replacement medications may come down in price and become more readily available to individuals who could not afford them.

The primary ingredients in Zubsolv are buprenorphine and naloxone so it is similar to a Suboxone formulation although promoted by the manufacturer as having a better taste, being a smaller tablet, and dissolving more quickly. Note that suboxone is now offered in a thin film formulation that also dissolves more rapidly than the original suboxone tablets.

Repairing Life After Opioid Addiction

methadone-recovery-1Addiction is an uphill battle. We have heard this said many times before. Many who found themselves in the midst of a personal opioid addiction were swept along on a nightmarish roller coaster ride with seemingly no brake pedal within reach.

Fortunately, addiction recovery is real, and people do get off of the roller coaster ride to hell. This is accomplished in a variety of ways with one method sometimes being the decision to try opioid replacement therapy such as methadone or suboxone.

Once off the roller coaster, individuals have an opportunity to survey their surroundings, to reflect on what has happened in their lives, and to begin moving along a better, safer path. Inevitably, facing the consequences of one's past becomes part of this gradual recovery process as does repairing the damage that occurred.

It is important to remember that change does not happen overnight, and repairing one's life happens step-by-step a little each day. There is a popular saying in recovery circles that is profound in its wisdom. It's "progress, not perfection". What this means is that no one is perfect, and that chasing perfection is perhaps an unrealistic goal. The goal should be "progress". This … is achievable. In repairing one's life and in living a new life of recovery, pursuing "progress" is enough.

Another insightful saying is this … "A journey of a 1000 miles begins with the first step". Once you have committed to sobriety and living your life in a better way, you have already taken several steps in the right direction on your new journey. You do not have to reach your destination in 24 hours. The journey itself is a huge part of your personal healing & personal growth.

Repairing one's life after opioid addiction will require several things of you. One is to cultivate patience with the world. The world often moves at a different speed than we do, and it is in our best interest to adjust to that rather than to try and control the speed of the world around us. This will require patience. Patience can grow. We can develop patience through mindfulness, prayer, therapy, and in other ways.

Also important to repairing one's life is trying to live with a sense of purpose. We must be committed to something, or someone, in order to live with a sense of purpose. In active addiction, the daily purpose was to get by without becoming sick, and that defined many addicts' focus day after day. Life loses its purpose when one is reduced to chasing drugs to avoid being dope sick.

Recovery offers so much more in terms having a new and improved life purpose. I can't tell you what that should be. But for some, it's being a good son or daughter, or a good spouse or parent. Or regaining a renewed sense of pride in their job, or "giving it away" and helping another addict or person in need, or volunteering to help a child learn to read, or mowing the yard of an elderly neighbor who can't do for themselves as well anymore.

Your purpose may not be known yet. But you can certainly discover what is really important to you once you get off the roller coaster ride of opioid addiction. As always, recovery is a choice. No one can force it on you. But it is there, available to you … when you are ready. Call your local clinic today. Ask a friend to help you find local resources. Choose to take your first step.

Time Limits on Methadone Programs

methadone-servicesThere is growing interest from a number of entities in regard to America’s opioid addiction problem, methadone treatment, suboxone treatment, and the always important funding considerations that accompany these subjects.

This interest is coming from hospitals & the larger medical establishment across the country, your local community, the Federal government’s Medicaid services division, your State’s Division of Health and Human Services who allocate state dollars for opioid treatment, private insurance companies, employers, and the list goes on and on.

The nationwide costs and consequences of addiction are enormous. The cost of treating addiction is also very large. However, research has proven repeatedly that addiction treatment produces undeniable cost benefits. In other words, treating addiction saves money in the long run by helping addicted individuals arrest their disease and become functional again. For many of the entities listed above, it’s all about the dollars. And more specifically, saving dollars when it comes to treating addiction.

The U.S. economy has been hit hard and we have a growing number of people depending on entitlements and public assistance. This, of course, creates a scenario in which more and more people are relying on a “government pie” whose slices keep getting cut smaller and smaller. The recent reductions in funding for public addiction programs have caused some agencies to close their doors … while other agencies simply had to cut back on the services they are able to offer their addicted clients.

An important consideration, which may become a hot topic soon, is how much counseling a methadone or suboxone patient can receive. Or, how long he or she can remain on their opioid replacement medication before public assistance funding begins to stop. Medicaid and State dollars presently help to fund the treatment for many opioid addicted clients in programs. There are currently more people in need of opioid treatment than there are funds available to pay for that treatment. So inevitably, patients may find themselves needing to help pay for their treatment.

I would not like to see patients be pressured to taper off of methadone before they are ready. Experience has shown us that gradual tapering, initiated & paced by the client, is the most successful means of coming off of methadone or suboxone successfully. Government public assistance is becoming more like private “Managed Care Organizations” with every passing day. As this paradigm continues to evolve, we may possibly see time limits of some sort imposed on methadone & suboxone maintenance clients. Some may view this as reasonable and necessary since such limits and caps are already applied to recipients of other health care services.

If time limits are ever applied to one’s length of time on methadone or suboxone, we will likely see clients increasingly picking up the funding for their opioid treatment. This happens everyday around the country in private, self-pay methadone clinics. In the end, we know that opioid replacement therapy works. It’s been proven! The availability of Medicaid and State funding is a great benefit to many people across the country. How this might change in the years ahead will bear close observation.