Methadone maintenance is a very beneficial treatment for individuals addicted to opioids, but there is also the option of methadone detox. When used correctly and for the right patients, it can be a faster option toward helping a patient get off of opioids entirely.
What is Methadone Detox?
As stated by Harvard Medical School, medically-assisted detoxification is “controlled and medically supervised withdrawal from the drug” or drugs that the individual is addicted to. In some cases for certain opioid addicts, methadone can be a useful medication in detoxification treatment. “Many heroin addicts are switched to the synthetic opiate methadone… Then the dose is gradually reduced over a period of about a week.”
Methadone detox is very similar to methadone maintenance except for the fact that:
- Its ultimate goal is abstinence from opioid drugs.
- It takes a much shorter time.
- While methadone detox takes about a week or so, methadone maintenance usually goes on at least a year or longer.
- It is a short-term detox treatment, not a long-term maintenance addiction treatment; therefore, it should not be used as the sole treatment for opioid addiction.
What Does Methadone Detox Entail?
According to SAMHSA, “Methadone can be given once daily and generally tapered over 3 to 5 days in 5 to 10mg daily reductions.” Patients who go through methadone maintenance are often successful but must attend some sort of addiction treatment afterward or they will not receive treatment for their actual addictions.
For an opioid addict, methadone detox will include these specific steps:
“Evaluation entails testing for the presence of substances of abuse in the bloodstream, measuring their concentration, and screening for co-occurring mental and physical conditions.” The patient will also talk with the medical professionals at the detox clinic so that their current medical and psychological situation can be assessed. It will be decided what dosage the patient will be put on and how long they will stay at the facility.
“Stabilization includes the medical and psychological process of assisting the patient through acute intoxication and withdrawal to the attainment of a medically stable, fully supported, substance-free state.” Usually in methadone detox, this takes about a week. The dosage will gradually be tapered off as the withdrawal symptoms become less severe and the patient is able to function without methadone.
Moving Toward Treatment
In the final stage, the doctors and nurses at the clinic help to “foster… the patient’s entry into treatment.” The importance of treatment will be stresssed to the patient, and they will be given the names and numbers of treatment facilities that can help them. This is an incredibly necessary step in methadone detox.
What Does Methadone Detox Feel Like?
Methadone detox is not a comfortable situation. In fact, it can be very difficult for many patients, but the ones who choose it are those who are hoping to be free of opioids as soon as possible. A patient will still experience withdrawal symptoms from opioids, although with methadone, they will be much more mild. Some of these withdrawal symptoms include:
- Muscle aches
- Bone pain
- Tearing of the eyes
- Abdominal cramping
- Runny nose
Often, another medication is given to patients in methadone detox to help with some of these symptoms. According to the NLM, “clonidine primarily reduces anxiety, agitation, muscle aches, sweating, runny nose, and cramping.” This can make the process much more bearable.
Pros of Methadone Detox
Methadone detox can be very beneficial to the right individual. Depending on your needs, methadone detox could be the right choice for you. Some of the benefits of methadone detox are:
- The combination of methadone and clonodine shorten withdrawal time and also make it much less painful and difficult.
- Methadone can be given once daily.
- According to the ONDCP, methadone “acts on the same targets in the brain as” heroin and prescription opiates do, helping to stop abuse of these drugs.
- Methadone detox is much faster and good for those who have not been addicted to opioids for very long.
- It is a good way to begin addiction treatment and can help lead someone into the treatment program they need.
Essentially, methadone detox is similar to detox of other kinds and has been used for many years to treat opioid dependence.
Cons of Methadone Detox
While there are many benefits to methadone detox, it can also cause problems. For example, detox is not always the best way to treat opioid dependence. Many people have gone into treatment more than once and relapsed because their addictions were so strong. Other cons of methadone detox are:
- The high possibility for overdose when patients relapse (as a patient’s tolerance for the drug is now very low)
- The higher crime rate, disease-transmission rate, and other issues when methadone detox is compared with methadone maintenance
- The risk that patients will not go on to addiction treatment after methadone detox treatment ends
Is Methadone Detox Right for Me?
Methadone detox treatment is best used for those individuals who have only been abusing opioids for a short period of time. It is also essential that the patient understands that “patients who go through medically assisted withdrawal but do not receive any further treatment show drug abuse patterns similar to those who were never treated” (NIDA).
Because of this, it is necessary that patients who go into methadone detox treatment understand the limitations of it and what it is that is actually being treated. Methadone detox is a great way for a patient to be able to end their dependence on opioids and ride out the withdrawal symptoms in a quicker, safer, and more comfortable way. It is not, however, a treatment for addiction and must be followed up with formal addiction treatment.
If you are an individual who has attended detox and drug addiction treatment multiple times and continued to slip into heavy stages of relapse, methadone detox may not be the answer. But if your abuse of opioids is a recent development and you are looking for a way to work through withdrawal before starting addiction treatment for the first time, methadone detox could be the perfect starting point in your recovery.