Medication Assisted Treatment for Opiate Addiction

Methadone is a medication that is used to treat people addicted to a class of drugs called opiates. Opiate dependency affects millions of people in the United States. There are hundreds of different opioids currently being used in the world. Opiate addiction affects people mentally, socially, physically and financially, not just for themselves, but also the people around them.

Addiction to opiates often occurs from the use of prescription pain medicines, either those prescribed for the individual or someone else. Methadone is a drug that is used to wean users from their drug dependency over time and under medical supervision. 

What are Opiates?

An opiate is a drug that originates from the opium poppy plant, including heroin and morphine. Drugs in this category act as a pain killer and sedative by depressing the central nervous system and altering how the body feels pain. Also called a narcotic, opiates are powerful drugs that are often prescribed for severe pain such as back or leg pain, and can be highly addictive with long-term use.

Examples of prescription opiates include:

  • Tylenol 3 (codeine)
  • Avinza, MS Contin, Oramorph SR (morphine)
  • Demerol (meperidine, pethidine)
  • Paregoric
  • Dilaudid (hydromorphone)
  • Actiq, Duragesic (fentanyl)
  • Lortab, Norco, Vicodin (hydrocodone)
  • Dolophine, Methadose (methadone)
  • OxyContin, Prcocet, Percodan (oxycodone)
  • Ryzolt, Ultram (tramadol)
  • Suboxone (buprenorphine and naloxone combined)

Because of the addictive nature of these drugs, most physicians typically prescribe them for 2 weeks or less.

Signs of Opiate Addiction

For many people taking a prescription opiate, one of the first signs of dependence is the need for more pain medicine to manage their pain. Once addicted, the user becomes focused on getting more drugs and begins to “doctor shop” to find other physicians who will provide a prescription. Or, the user may turn to illegal sources.

Among the signs of opiate addiction are:

  • Unable to feel pain (analgesia)
  • Frequent absences from work or school
  • Loss of friendships, problems with spouse
  • Track or needle marks
  • Loss of interest in regular activities
  • Sleepiness or excessive sleeping
  • Needing larger doses to get the same effect
  • Euphoria (feeling high)
  • Anger or irritability
  • Slow or shallow breathing
  • Chills, cramps or flu-like symptoms
  • Digestive problems, constipation
  • Runny, red nose
  • Dilated (large) pupils
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Itching, tremors (shaking)
  • Flushed or red skin
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Weight changes
  • Sweating
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety

More serious symptoms can include heart problems, high fever, coma stroke, seizures and suicide attempts.

About Methadone Treatment

Methadone and methamphetamine are often mistaken for the same thing. Methadone is a legal drug that is prescribed to people to help them wean off opiate addictions, while methamphetamine is an illegal drug.

Methadone treatment is safe and an effective detoxification treatment for those addicted to opiates. It is given by medical professionals with regular monitoring to assure the safe withdrawal from opiates and a return to sobriety. Methadone is used during the period of withdrawal from the opiate to help the addict replace the drug they are currently using. The purpose of the drug is to lower the individual’s cravings and need for their opiate addiction.

However, Methadone treatment is best combined with family/ friend support, counseling and other psychological care. Continuing care following treatment is an important aspect of recovery and many individuals regularly attend support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous.

There are many symptoms that occur during withdrawal that make it hard for patients to want to continue, but the benefits far outweigh the short-term symptoms. The most common symptoms are anxiety, agitation, muscle aches, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and flashes of cold and hot. These symptoms can last up to six weeks. Symptoms may be stronger for those who have been using the drugs for a long time.

Methadone is a drug and addiction is possible, however, under the care of a medical professional the dosage will be carefully managed and monitored to avoid addiction. Pregnant women may use methadone under medical supervision because it is less harmful to the fetus than opiates.

Preventing Relapse

Because opiates are psychologically addictive as well as physically addictive, many users relapse after they have successfully gone through withdrawal treatment. To prevent relapse, it is important that recovering addicts have support from family and friends, and seek regular counseling or support groups to maintain their sobriety.

Methadone therapy can assist in preventing relapse by providing proper counseling and support with medically managed detoxification. These methods have been shown to decrease the chance of relapse by 30%.**

For more information on methadone treatment for addiction to opiates, contact River Region Human Services at (904) 899-6300.

** Why do so many opiate addicts relapse within the first year after completing treatment?