Whether it is in the form of heroin or painkillers like oxycontin and vicodin, addiction to opiates is one of the most significant substance abuse issues facing the United States. Alarmingly, deaths from prescription drug overdoses have been on the rise in recent years, especially in Florida, where the number of people who died as a result of overdose rose 77 percent from 2003 to 2008. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that at least 980,000 people in the United States are addicted to opiates. Despite the startling statistics, there are treatments available to help abusers overcome their addictions, and one of the most effective is methadone maintenance treatment.
Methadone is used strictly for people who have developed an addiction to opiates because, although it may not be chemically like heroin or painkillers, it targets a similar part of the brain which makes it a bit easier to wean people off the drugs. The treatment is known as opiate replacement therapy and has shown to have effective results.
To fully appreciate the benefits of methadone treatment, it may help to look at the severity of the effects of opiate abuse and addiction. For instance, heroin users who share needles put themselves at great risk for contracting HIV and hepatitis. Aside from the risk of overdosing, heroin use is tied to decreased kidney function and users can develop tolerance very quickly.
In addition to serving the goal of ending the patient's dependence on opiates, the biggest advantage of methadone treatment is the fact that it limits the symptoms of withdrawal, which can sometimes be very serious. Such effects can start appearing as soon as six hours after use.
The National Institute of Health says that the earliest symptoms of withdrawal are mild and can include anxiety and agitation as well as increased tearing and insomnia. However, as more time passes after using the symptoms get more serious and include severe abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting and goosebumps.
The treatment option has been around for quite some time as well. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, it was first originated in 1964 in an effort to fight back against the heroin epidemic that had sprung up in New York City.
The bulk of the benefits come from the fact that methadone targets the opioid receptors in the brain much like heroin and vicodin. However, unlike those two substances it is not addictive. As a result, administering methadone to patients can reduce their cravings while also limiting the symptoms of withdrawal and reducing the euphoric rewards that many people feel when they use opiates.
According to the CDC, methadone works by blocking the rewards that most users get from abusing opiates. Since it limits the feelings of euphoria and relaxation it is a more effective means of slowly reducing the patient's dependence on the drug. Although methadone treatment has been shown to be an effective option, like most treatments it can differ greatly from person to person. Regardless, most experts say that at least 12 months of methadone maintenance treatment is necessary for full recovery and the CDC reports that some patients may need more than that to fully recover. However, sometimes patients leave or are discharged without staying long enough, putting them at significant risk for a relapse.
Methadone treatment has shown to be an viable option for recovery, but it is not without its critics. The biggest issue that some people have with the treatment is that they feel that it does not really cure the patient's addiction and instead makes them dependent on another drug. Additionally, some people are critical of the fact that addicts may use it long after their treatment has stopped.
The reason that some people think patients in methadone treatment may become addicted is the same reason why it is an effective way to ween them off opiates - it impacts the same areas of the brain. By targeting the pleasure centers a methadone patient may end up using the drug to limit any signs of withdrawal much like they did when they were using heroin or painkillers.
Though there are some inherent complications associated with methadone treatment for people who are struggling with opiate addiction, it may be the best course of action. Still, there are a number of things that they should consider before entering such a treatment facility. According to WebMD, since it is a long-acting medicine it should not be combined with other substances including alcohol and certain medications. Additionally, those thinking about entering a facility should be sure to take the decision seriously and thoroughly research potential clinics.
One of the most important things to consider when seeking out a treatment center is its location. Though some people might assume that staying close to home is the best option, some experts say that going through treatment near old hang outs may increase the chances of a relapse, especially if they have contacts in the area who are still using.
There is also an important distinction to make between private and public treatment centers. In most cases, private centers will be more expensive but will provide the patient with a more pleasant experience. That's not to say that public centers are not helpful. Nearby facilities can be found through the U.S. Department Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Above all else, anybody entering treatment should make sure to talk to a doctor before they do so. Few people will be able to help out as much as someone who is familiar with the treatment process, and it's likely they will be discrete and understanding since they have experience in the field.