Methadone works on the opioid receptors in the brain, filling some of the holes left by heroin and prescription drug abuse. This offsets much of the discomfort associated with withdrawal and helps the addict to avoid cravings. Unfortunately, methadone has gotten a bad reputation with the general public. The medication has been called a “crutch” for addicts or referred to as a way to keep people legally addicted to drugs.
In reality, methadone help people who have a serious addiction to opioids stop using illegal drugs and restore their brains to some semblance of normalcy.
Many people who have never dealt with addiction first-hand look at methadone in a very negative way. Common misconceptions surrounding the use of methadone include:
Myth: Methadone clinics are just a way for people to stay legally addicted to opioids.
Reality: Methadone isn’t considered an addictive drug when administered correctly and closely monitored. Instead, it’s a maintenance drug intended to help the addict live a relatively normal life without turning back to things like heroin or prescription pills. Patients taking methadone as directed by their doctor don’t develop a tolerance or get a high off of the medication.
Myth: Methadone clinics are poorly regulated drug havens.
Reality: Methadone clinics require a special license and are overseen by both medical and government entities. Every doctor is held accountable for the medications that they prescribe, and the clinics are carefully monitored to make sure that the practices are both safe and ethical. They don’t just hand out bottles full of medication to every person who show up with cash. That perception is silly and demeaning for addicts who are genuinely trying to recover. In order to qualify for medication-assisted treatment using methadone, an addict often has to undergo an entire treatment regimen and be recommended to the program by a licensed treatment professional.
Myth: Methadone treatment lasts for so long because withdrawals from maintenance drugs are worse than the withdrawals from illicit drug.
Reality: Just like any other drug that impacts chemical levels within the brain, abruptly stopping methadone can cause withdrawals. The difference is in the severity of the symptoms, and the controlled reduction in dosage. Withdrawals are different for everyone, but methadone often causes a milder set of symptoms than stronger illicit drugs like heroin or painkillers. However, the symptoms usually last longer due to the extended release formula. When a person is ready to reduce or stop using their methadone, they can work with their doctor to slowly lower the dosage. This allows their body to get used to it and can stop the effects of withdrawals altogether.
Myth: Methadone clinics are free and taxpayers cover the cost of drugs for the addicts.
Reality: In some instances, medical insurance will help to cover the cost of maintenance medications. However, just like with any other medication, the person who needs it must cover a percentage of the cost. This can add up to hundreds of dollars a month for an addict who’s undergoing a methadone treatment program. Community, or public, clinics tend to charge less, but it can take months to make it onto the patient list. They also tend to offer a less personalized approach to treatment. Private clinics cost a bit more, but they offer a wider range of expedited services.
The first step in determining whether or not you’re eligible for a medication-assisted treatment program is to visit your doctor or a treatment facility. They’ll need to verify your addiction to opioids and confirm that you’ve been struggling with addiction for at least a year. It’s also important that you truly want to stop using drugs.
A person who isn’t serious about getting help won’t benefit from methadone treatment and is more likely to relapse and drop out of the program. Some clinics will require an addict to prove ongoing participation in additional treatment programs to continue to receive the medication.
Addiction needs to be treated from every angle. Physically, mentally, and spiritually. Only focusing on one portion of the recovery process won’t be effective, and most doctors realize this. Methadone is only one part of a much larger process. The goal is to ultimately allow the addict to live as normal a life as possible free from illegal drug use.
Understanding the Routine
To remain in a medication-assisted treatment program, an addict will need to be compliant with their treatment program. This can involve reported attendance from regular meetings, counseling sessions, and even probation when applicable.
The person will also need to submit to regular drug tests, show up on time to every appointment, and agree to only take their medication as prescribed. Some clinics administer methadone once a day to a scheduled group of participants so that they aren’t sending large quantities of the medication home with them. Removing the temptation can be a necessary evil sometimes.
Many clinics will ask that patients sign a binding contract, and if they break any of the rules, they’re out of the program. Once that goes on a person’s record, it can be difficult to get back into a methadone program at a later date. It’s all about being honest and taking treatment seriously.
How Medications Are Controlled
Methadone clinics are carefully monitored by state and federal governments. The FDA tracks prescriptions, medications administered, medications destroyed, and the number of patients. The meds themselves are kept in a locked environment that’s usually under some sort of surveillance.
The chain of custody and accountability play a huge role in keeping clinics compliant with regulations. This is part of the reason that methadone clinics must be so strict with their patients. If you think that methadone might be an option, contact your treatment provider and have an honest discussion about your future.
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