Methadone Maintenance

Methadone maintenance uses a synthetic opiate prescription as maintenance treatment for heroin addiction. Methadone, a long-acting synthetic narcotic analgesic, was first used in the maintenance treatment of drug addiction in the mid-1960s by Dr. Vincent Dole and Marie Nyswander of Rockefeller University. There are now 115,000 Methadone maintenance patients in the United States, 40,000 of which are in New York State and about half that many are in California. Methadone is widely employed throughout the world and is considered by many to be an effective treatment for heroin addiction.

Methadone is available as a tablet, oral solution, or injectable liquid. Some Methadone tablets are designed to be swallowed intact, while others are intended to be dissolved first in liquid. Likewise, Methadone is available either as a ready-to-drink solution or as a concentrate, which must be mixed first with water or fruit juice. Methadone also is available as a liquid that is administered via injection.

When used to treat narcotic addiction, Methadone maintenance suppresses withdrawal symptoms for 24 to 36 hours. It has been stated that individuals who are prescribed Methadone for treatment of heroin addiction experience neither the cravings for heroin nor the euphoric rush that are typically associated with use of that drug.

However, some people do abuse this drug and experience similar effects as if they were using other opiates, albeit not to the same extent. Methadone works on the pleasure centers in the brain and creates a feeling of well-being. A heroin addict may continue using Methadone to avoid going through withdrawal symptoms much in the same way they originally continued to abuse heroin. Those who suffer with Methadone addiction are in the throes of a physical addiction to the drug. Because Methadone is a synthetic opiate it has the same characteristics as other drugs in this class and is used to replace other medications such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, and Heroin. A person who develops a Methadone addiction feels that they can't function throughout the day without it.

Many people go from being addicted to heroin to being addicted to Methadone, and continue with this "treatment" for years, fearing the Methadone withdrawal symptoms that will occur when they stop. Methadone does not have to be the way of life for former heroin addicts. Gradual cessation followed by a drug-free program of rehabilitation may be the answer for many sufferers. After several days of stabilizing a patient with Methadone, the amount can be gradually decreased. The rate at which it is decreased is dependent on the reaction of the individual. Keeping Methadone withdrawal symptoms at a tolerable level is the goal.

Methadone withdrawal symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • abdominal cramps
  • body aches
  • dilated pupils
  • excessive perspiration
  • fever
  • irritability
  • nausea
  • runny nose
  • sneezing
  • tearing of eyes
  • tremors
  • yawning

Studies find that two-thirds of Methadone patients show dramatically decreased drug use, decreased criminal involvement, and improved life circumstances when using Methadone maintenance. Heroin is one of the most difficult addictive drugs to "kick" for good. Heroin provides a euphoric rush and chronic users can experience intense cravings for more of the drug even years after their last use.

The goal of Methadone maintenance treatment is to reduce illegal heroin use and the crime, death, and disease associated with heroin addiction. Methadone is commonly used to detoxify heroin addicts. However, most heroin addicts who detox, using Methadone or any other method, eventually return to heroin use. Therefore, the goal of Methadone maintenance is to reduce and even eliminate heroin use among addicts by stabilizing them on Methadone for as long as is necessary to help them avoid returning to previous patterns of drug use.

Methadone maintenance treatment programs are staffed by professionals with medical, clinical, and administrative expertise. Patients receive medication from a health professional during the program. Patients routinely meet with a primary counselor (social worker, caseworker, or certified substance abuse counselor), attend clinic groups, and access medical and social services.

Methadone maintenance treatment has long been hampered by government regulations that require most patients to come to the clinic five to seven days a week. This requirement works against patients' efforts to maintain employment, as they must often leave work and travel some distance to keep appointments. Recently, U.S. drug "czar" Barry McCaffrey recommended making Methadone more readily available by allowing doctors to prescribe it like any other medication. This is common practice in Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, Australia, and elsewhere.

Moreover, in 1997, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Institutes of Health (NIH) Consensus Panel found the following concerning Methadone treatment: "Of various treatments available, Methadone maintenance treatment, combined with attention to medical, psychiatric, and socio-economic issues, as well as drug counseling, has the highest probability of being effective."

How long should Methadone maintenance last? Generally, the length of time spent in treatment is positively related to treatment success. The duration of treatment should be individually and clinically determined, and treatment should last for as long as the physician and the individual patient agree is appropriate. Federal, and often state, regulations require annual evaluation of patients to determine whether they should continue in Methadone maintenance treatment. Is Methadone maintenance treatment for life? Some patients remain in Methadone treatment for more than ten years, and even for the rest of their lives, but they constitute a minority (5 to 20%) of patients.

Here are some interesting points regarding the question, what is Methadone maintenance? Patients become as physically dependent on Methadone as they were to heroin or other opiates (such as OxyContin or Vicodin) and suffer difficult withdrawal when finally trying to detox of this medication.

As mentioned above, some doctors in the field of addiction recovery feel that Methadone is medically safe even when used continuously for 10 years or more! We feel that Methadone maintenance is not a cure for opiate addiction. Truly, the addict is replacing one drug addiction for another. The replacement medication (Methadone) is taken orally and is rapidly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract, appearing in the blood's plasma within thirty minutes of being ingested. Methadone is also widely distributed to body tissues where it is stored and then released into the plasma. This combination of storage and release keeps the patient comfortable, free from craving, and feeling stable.

If you or someone you love is currently considering Methadone maintenance as an alternative to heroin or other drug addiction - Methadone use, please give us a call. We'll be glad to help you in many ways to either safely end your Methadone addiction or locate a safer drug-free alternative to Methadone that will assist you in regaining your life back.



  • Symptoms of an overdose from heroin would be convulsions, coma, and even death.

  • In 2002, studies show 53% of past year users of heroin had a dependence on the drug.

  • Heroin is manly used by teenagers, who may use the drug to be able to cope with self-image issues.

  • The heroin addicts body becomes barely capable of managing small amounts of pain or discomfort.

  • Junk, dragon, dope and Mr. Brownstone are a few common street names for heroin.

  • Florida and California by far have the most heroin seizures by law enforcement each year.

  • 1.6% of young adults ages 19 to 28 reported having tried heroin at least once within their life time.

  • Severe weight loss is a common side effect of using heroin.

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