Substance abuse disorders are often complex. Research is still searching for answers as to why one person may be more prone to addiction than another. Although there are a few theories as to how addiction is created, there is no one direct answer and often times many different factors contribute to the disease. Likewise, treatment is often complex and what may work for one addict may not necessarily work for another. One type of treatment that has been found to work for some short or long term recovery is known as Methadone treatment. Methadone treatment is most commonly used as a medication under the bigger category of medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Methadone is just one of the few medications available in a “harm reduction treatment method” which means that the initial goal of treatment does not necessarily include sobriety, but rather a decrease in the harm of substance use on the body, individual and society.
Methadone is essentially a drug in the opioid category and is most commonly used in hospitals to treat extreme pain. It is often compared to morphine and can be taken in a variety of forms such as powder, tablets, pills or in a liquid. Methadone must be prescribed by a doctor for its use and although it is safer than the majority of other narcotics, it needs to be monitored because of its potential for abuse. Doctors tend to prescribe methadone to help with detoxification symptoms from other more dangerous opioids, allowing users to slowly come off of things like heroin, oxycodone and hydrocodone without experiencing as significant withdrawal symptoms and pain. Methadone changes the way your nervous system and brain respond to pain with milder, slower and less damaging effects than other opioid drugs. This method may be helpful for those individuals who avoid treating their substance abuse for fear of experiencing extreme amounts of physical and psychological pain. It gives opioid abusers a way to steadily decrease their use consumption while reducing the harm they are causing to their body and the public.
Methadone has also been found to help with users who have a difficult time “quitting cold turkey”. Substance abuse is usually developed over a significant period of time, so abstinence (withdrawal symptoms aside) can be extremely hard to maintain. Methadone maintenance has been used to treat opioid addiction since the 1950s and basically consists of having opioid dependent patients taking daily or weekly doses of methadone as a pill or liquid. Methadone clinics help supply substance abusers with these daily doses and offer a range of benefits. Patients are given methadone under monitored medical supervision with regulated amounts. Methadone Treatment results in decreased syringe and needle usage which cuts back on HIV transmissions from shared needles and reduces criminal activity and time spent trying to obtain or pay for drugs. Research has also found that methadone maintenance also significantly reduces disease transmission from shared and dirty needles, reduces death rates from overdoses, decreases criminal activity and creates regulated and monitored dosages. While methadone appears to be a safe and popular alternative to drug abuse, it does have its limitations.
Although methadone is a less potent opioid, it is still an opioid, meaning that it has the potential to become abused. The initial intention for the creation of methadone was to help addicts wean off of stronger opioids with minimum symptoms. Many addicts never fully wean off of methadone and the continued use of methadone for longer than necessary is sometimes jokingly and colloquially referred to as the “methadone maintenance plan”. The Centre for Policy Studies has stated that methadone maintenance has become a “nationalized drug dealing” and has increasingly seen addicts being hooked on methadone for too long. Methadone clinics do monitor the methadone that they prescribe but often give out needles and supplies which are not monitored. “They visit me regularly for clean needles to then inject filthy brown street heroin”, stated Peter Dawson, a pharmacist in West Yorkshire. Dawson also stated that, “those who stubbornly see the drugs as the problem are no less misguided than the addicts who see drugs as the solution”. Treatment using methadone is still highly controversial but so is the definition of recovery.
Methadone, like any other treatment, should be highly researched before it is started to see if it will be beneficial to that particular individual. Recovery often looks very different for each individual, depending on a variety of factors, including things like age, resources, genetics, etc., which means that methadone could be a short term, long term or no term option depending on the circumstances. Since addiction is so complex, treatment could also be complex, with a combination of different treatment approaches in order to facilitate recovery. Research is still trying to look for answers on more substantial and universal treatment for addiction, but until we have a breakthrough in discoveries, each individual needs to find recovery in what works best for them.