Category Archives: Methadone Blog

Expanding Access to Medication-Assisted Treatment

opioid-treatment-in-mediaAn article in the Huffington Post recently addressed President Obama’s public comments on expanding access to opioid treatment, particularly medication-assisted treatment (MAT) like methadone or buprenorphine (suboxone).

Many members of the treatment industry and recovery community do not have a realistic grasp on the role that medication-assisted treatment can play in recovery from severe opioid addiction. Historically, the recovery community has not regarded those utilizing methadone or suboxone as truly in recovery. They emphasize total abstinence, even from methadone, despite the fact that methadone and buprenorphine have restored individuals to normal functioning and even saved lives in many cases.

There was a time some years ago, in the 12 step community, when individuals were chastised for taking psychotropic medication for depression or other mental health disorders. This criticism came from a fundamental lack of knowledge about the biological basis for many mental health disorders. Similarly, medication-assisted treatment interventions have been the subject of misunderstanding and unwarranted rejection by those with limited education on varied treatment approaches.

As America’s opioid problem continues to grow, we need real solutions rooted in medical science and research. At this point in time, medication-assisted treatment has been in use long enough to clearly demonstrate its usefulness in facilitating personal recovery from addiction.

In 2015, we saw numerous local and national political figures rally around families that have been impacted by heroin overdoses and the heartbreaking loss of loved ones. Opioid addiction has finally come into focus within the mainstream media, and even current Presidential candidates have begun to address this as an important issue which commands attention and a solution.

More: Question and Answers on how methadone works


Methadone Maintenance For Opioid Treatment

methadone-and-opioid-treatmentOpioid Treatment is a category that includes several different interventions or approaches relating to opioid use disorders. People sometimes mistake opioid treatment for “opioid detox” when they are technically two different processes.

Opioid detox refers to the process of helping an opioid addicted individual discontinue their use of opioids and be medically monitored as the body withdraws from them. In a supervised setting, a person is typically assisted through a short-term opioid detox (3-10 days) by the administration of various medications used to manage withdrawal symptoms like clonidine (to guard against high blood pressure), vistaril (to reduce nausea and anxiety), and even buprenorphine (to minimize the severity of the opioid withdrawal process).

There are also variations on an opioid detox referred to as a taper. A taper often occurs on an outpatient basis and involves a more gradual reduction in dosage of either methadone or buprenorphine (suboxone) over time. This taper may take as long as 90 days and allows the individual to adjust more comfortably due to the slower, milder reduction in dosage that occurs over a coarse of weeks or months.

Maintenance is the term which refers to maintaining an individual for a significant period of time on either methadone or buprenorphine (suboxone) to allow for stabilization on the opioid replacement medication. Since opioid addiction introduces dramatic brain chemistry changes in conjunction with strong physical dependency and cravings for opiates, many people find that they need a substantial period of stabilization on methadone in order to have a realistic chance at building a personal recovery. Numerous individuals have decided that they will utilize methadone for only a few weeks with the intention of tapering off of it very quickly. This strategy is prone to failure and tends to end in dramatic relapses back to heroin and other illicit opioids.

Methadone maintenance for most opioid-addicted persons involves receiving methadone for a year or more. This length of time dramatically raises the probability of successful physical stabilization and necessary thinking, behavior, and lifestyle changes which lead to long-term drug abstinence and sustained, productive living. Put very simply, when people attempt to rush through the process of stabilization & recovery, they sabotage their chance of experiencing real success. For that reason, maintenance is a therapeutic process which should be regarded as a one year commitment or longer, and tapering off of methadone or buprenorphine should not be rushed. Bear in mind that not all individual situations are exactly the same and there are unique exceptions.

There are many different factors that play into how long a person needs to remain on methadone or suboxone maintenance. This is highly individualized depending on the length and severity of one’s opioid abuse history, one’s present medical status and general state of health, the availability of social & emotional supports, and the presence of any co-occurring psychiatric disorders like depression.

There is considerable misinformation about methadone tapering and a bit of fear-mongering that often occurs around the topic. People that generally taper successfully off of methadone or suboxone are individuals that have invested time in counseling and personal recovery growth, and who have developed a good working relationship with their doctor or treatment staff. These individuals approach tapering as a gradual goal and are allowed to halt or slow down their taper as needed. This allows their body time to adapt to the somewhat lower dosage. It also allows them to proceed slowly and carefully such that any anxiety or fears can be successfully identified and managed.

Choosing The Right Direction: Detox – Methadone – Suboxone

Methadone and Other Medications

doc66Methadone is FDA-approved for pain management and the treatment of opioid addiction. Methadone is a relatively safe and highly effective medication when used exactly as prescribed. It is currently in use in the United States and around the world following years of conclusive research on methadone’s efficacy and safety.

It is important for patients receiving methadone to know that it can interact with other central nervous system depressants like alcohol and benzodiazepines such as xanax, klonopin, valium, and librium as well as similarly acting non-benzodiazepine agents like ambien (a popular sleep aid). When methadone is mixed with these other medications, there is an increased risk of sedation and loss of consciousness. In extreme cases, individuals mixing methadone and other CNS depressants have gone into respiratory failure.

For those who have chosen to receive methadone in an opioid treatment program, they will discover that a proper dose of methadone not only eliminates opiate withdrawal & cravings, but will also block the euphoric effects of any other opiates. This is typically a positive side effect in that it discourages illicit opiate use or supplementing with street drugs like heroin. Since methadone binds so well to the brain’s opiate receptor sites, any other opiates that are ingested have no means of creating a euphoria or a high since the body’s opiate receptors are occupied by methadone. This removes the incentive to misuse other opiates and can facilitate the process of recovery.

There are instances in which a patient’s physician has prescribed a benzodiazepine for anxiety management while also prescribing methadone. Such decisions should always be accompanied by a thorough discussion with one’s doctor of the potential risks & complications. There are other, safer alternatives for treating anxiety such as Buspar and cognitive therapy. These other options should be considered when a patient is already receiving methadone. In addiction treatment, the use of benzodiazepines for anxiety is typically monitored carefully through increased random urinalysis testing and medication counts.

Opioid Addiction Spiking in Guilford County North Carolina

policeGuilford County is the third most populated county in the state of North Carolina. Located within Guilford County are the cities of Greensboro and High Point – both of which are experiencing a surprising increase in opioid addiction and related overdoses.

The High Point Enterprise news reported that the High Point Vice and Narcotics unit has begun to make a favorable impact on the problem with multiple arrests of those trafficking heroin locally. The article documents that 70 reported High Point opioid overdoses have occurred thus far in 2014 with 9 of those ending in death. Six people were arrested the week of July 14 and are being held on multi-million dollar bonds for their roles in selling or trafficking heroin. To emphasize the local impact, the HP Enterprise reported that 7 overdoses occurred within a 24 hour period on May 16, 2014.

Just 15 miles away in the neighboring city of Greensboro, Rhino Times covered the local explosion in heroin addiction much of which has been driven by individuals turning to heroin when they could no longer obtain prescription opioids like oxycodone. Rhino Times interviewed the Director of Guilford County Emergency Services, Jim Albright, who stated that a particularly strong strain of heroin hit the streets of Greensboro in late April, 2014.

Over the weekend of April 25, the Guilford County EMS responded to an avalanche of calls in response to people overdosing on the new potent version of heroin. Mr. Albright is reported to have identified that 21 overdoses and 5 deaths occurred just in that one weekend. Due to the potency of the drugs, some victims were found with a needle still in their arm.

Highlighted in the article was the life saving properties of Narcan, a drug that quickly reverses the dangerous overdose effects of opiates. Narcan can be administered by injection or squirted into the nasal cavity. As it is absorbed into the body, it restores breathing to those that have overdosed. Narcan is now kept in first responder vehicles, firetrucks, and ambulances. Visit Alcohol & Drug Services for more on Narcan and opioid overdose prevention kits.

For information on methadone as a treatment for opioid addiction, click here.

Why Methadone Is Effective

methadone-researchMany opioid addicted individuals eventually become interested in methadone after hearing others speak of its effectiveness in eliminating opiate withdrawal sickness.

Methadone has been in use for well over 40 years as a leading treatment for opioid addiction. There are now hundreds of methadone clinics in operation across the U.S. The popularity of methadone as an addiction treatment rests in its proven benefit in completely removing withdrawal symptoms and in methadone’s uniquely long half life.

Heroin and most prescription opiates have a quick onset, short duration. In other words, you feel the effect quickly but the effect does not last long. Methadone is designed to remain in an individual’s system for a prolonged period of time thus keeping withdrawal symptoms at bay for a full day or longer.

Someone who is opioid tolerant and adjusted to their daily methadone medication will experience no high whatsoever from the medication. It will not interfere with their daily responsibilities, work, family, or other obligations. Often, families wonder what effect methadone will have on their loved one. Most family members are surprised to see their loved one return to being functional again and able to live a normal daily life.

Methadone is a full opioid agonist and binds very well to the body’s mu opioid receptors. This action causes withdrawal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, chills,  diarrhea, and runny nose to disappear. Once these symptoms are removed, the addicted person can finally resume a full life and refocus themselves on important personal goals.

While the news media have frequently focused on addiction tragedies, the real stories are those in which countless people’s lives have been saved by methadone. In the North Carolina clinic where I have been employed, I have seen enormous numbers of individuals re-engage with their family, their career, their academic pursuits, home ownership, and a rewarding way of life.

There is a considerable amount of misinformation and fear-mongering that goes on around the topic of tapering off of methadone. It is important to emphasize that a patient is physically dependent upon methadone and must take the medication regularly to avoid opioid withdrawal. However, individuals taper off of methadone successfully everyday in programs across the country. Managing your anxiety during the taper process is important because this helps you stay focused and rational as you slowly reduce your methadone dosage.

The key to tapering successfully is to do so gradually and in cooperation with your prescribing physician and methadone clinic medical team. Some people may try to taper off of methadone too quickly and will consequently begin to feel their withdrawal symptoms return. This is most often avoided by simply proceeding slowly with a methadone taper.