Is an opioid like Methadone a good substitute for an already addictive, stronger opioid like heroin? Like most black and white questions, the reality is a lot more gray area than you might expect. Methadone is a common medication used to help with heroin addiction. There are many pros and cons of methadone when it comes to treatment and legal use. There’s some debate over this drug, and we’ll get into it further throughout this article.

Is methadone safer or riskier than heroin? Well, it’s both safer and riskier. It all depends on the situation, which makes things rather complicated. 

Is methadone more expensive than heroin? Well, again, it depends. It’s both more and less expensive than heroin.

Is Methadone less addictive than heroin?

Although Methadone is sometimes used to treat opioid addiction and withdrawal, it can still be habit-forming.

With methadone treatment, the devil is in the details. For some, it can be an effective solution for dealing with opioid addiction or withdrawal. For others, it can lead to endless cycles of relapse and rehab. The key is understanding the full story. It’s important to understand both the pros and cons of methadone maintenance therapy.

Methadone Treatment: The Basics

Before we dive into the pros and cons of methadone treatment, we need to understand what this treatment program actually is.

Opioids, like heroin, are incredibly difficult to escape because they stimulate every pleasure center of the brain and have major withdrawal symptoms. Simply detoxing from heroin and entering therapy is often not enough, as 90-95% of users will end up back on heroin.

methadone bottle

Methadone is one medication often used in addition to other methods as a treatment for opioid addiction. That means it acts similar to heroin. However, it’s much milder.

Methadone Medication-Assisted Treatment lets doctors mitigate heroin withdrawal while the patients undergo other forms of therapy in a completely legal and controlled manner. In contrast to treatment without methadone, 25% of patients detox completely and another 25% stay on methadone as a maintenance program. That is significantly higher than the 5-10% who succeed with just a heroin detox.

However, because methadone can be highly addictive, methadone clinics are very controlled. Patients have to visit the clinic every day for their prescriptions. Only a few people on the maintenance program are allowed to take home small quantities.

It should be noted that methadone is not a complete cure. Treatment programs almost always include other techniques, including group therapy.

Pros of Methadone Treatment Programs

Past Success Rates

As shown earlier, patients using methadone can be 5-10 times more likely to succeed with their treatment than those simply detoxing from heroin without MAT.

Opioid addiction is never easy. So when an addict makes the choice to seek help, they want to recover during their first attempt to never experience the early, painful stages of recovery again.

Medically Controlled Environment

Because those on methadone treatment have to visit the clinic every day, they get frequent interactions with their doctors. This allows them to ensure the treatment is working properly. Especially since heroin destroys essential organs like the heart and kidneys, regular checkups with doctors help ensure the patient stays healthy.

men talking together

Adds Structure to Patients’ Lives

Because of the daily visits to the methadone clinic, methadone treatment adds accountability and some order to the patient’s life. If they relapse or believe they are going to relapse, the clinic can promptly adjust their treatment. Also, some addicts lack a sense of purpose in their life. These structured visits can help form the building blocks to getting their life organized again.

Reduced Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Because methadone acts very similarly to heroin, there are very few painful withdrawal symptoms. The only difference is that methadone does not produce the same “high” as heroin. Most patients don’t realize that there are two parts to withdrawal, though: physical and psychological. Methadone treats the physical symptoms, but another therapy is needed to help with the psychological symptoms.

Helps With Legal Troubles

Methadone treatment is completely legal. Plus, if an addict simply shows that they’re doing methadone therapy, it can mitigate or even eliminate all legal punishments for illegal use of heroin.

Keeps Patients out of Crime

Because methadone is legal and easily attainable at clinics, addicts no longer need to commit crimes to obtain drugs.

Methadone is a Well-Studied Treatment

Methadone was first brought to the United States in the 1950s. Since then, it has been a popular treatment for heroin addiction. As a result, it’s been studied in-depth and doctors are very well aware of how it interacts with the human body.

Cons of Methadone Treatment Programs

Methadone is Highly Addictive

This comes back to the original question. Is methadone, an opioid, a good treatment for heroin or other opioid addictions? Methadone is highly addictive and can actually change the body’s chemistry and functionality over time, so maybe not. However, when patients follow the program, these side effects are minimal.

danger sign on sidewalk

Methadone Detox is Worse Than Heroin Detox

Wait, what? Yes, you read that correctly. Detoxing from methadone is actually harder than heroin. Much harder.

Typically, it can take a full month to completely detox and can only be done successfully in a completely controlled environment. Se the statistics of those who attempt detoxing from methadone:

  • 53% fail and return to the maintenance program
  • 26% revert back to drugs
  • 3% become criminals
  • 13% become alcoholics
  • 1% die during methadone detox

Only 3% survive a methadone dependency completely drug-free.

For this reason, we at Opus Health do not use Methadone for any treatment plan. It doesn’t make sense to use this medication as a treatment with such risky outcomes, statistically.

Causes Employment Difficulties

Though methadone therapy is legal and employers are supposed to ignore it during the hiring process, it may come up on common drug screenings. This can severely impact employment opportunities to those wishing to live a normal life.

Deadly Overdoses

Like heroin and other opioids, it’s completely possible to overdose on methadone. In fact, it’s extremely easy to overdose on methadone because it stays in your bloodstream for up to 56 hours.

That means that if you take too much during even a 2-day period, overdoses are completely possible. Luckily for those that receive their daily doses at clinics, this isn’t a problem. But it can be dangerous for patients who get the opportunity to take the medicine home.

Doesn’t Prevent You From Relapsing

Methadone is known as an agonist, meaning it replaces the need for other drugs and opioids. However, users can still take other drugs like alcohol or heroin and still get their high that way. Unlike other newer drugs, methadone is not an antagonist, which would cause repulsive reactions with other drugs.

man making a call

Side Effects of Methadone

Not only does methadone not prevent relapse, but it makes relapse or the use of other drugs really dangerous. Normal side effects include:

  • Slowed breathing
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Restlessness
  • Itchy skin

But when combined with other depressants, methadone can cause depressed breathing, coma, unconsciousness, or even death.

Furthermore, in the long-term, methadone can cause respiratory problems and permanently change the user’s brain.

Is Methadone Worth It?

While it’s hard to say if methadone is the best solution for heroin rehabilitation, it is clearly better than no treatment at all. But it’s not without its risks. It is not a decision that should be made alone or for an addict. Instead, it’s best left up to the addict discussing several possible courses of action with their doctor.

At Opus Health, we never use methadone as it tends to be highly addictive and has a harsher effect on people trying to recover from addiction. There are other medications available that don’t have as negative of side effects as methadone. We understand that there are all kinds of pros and cons of methadone when it comes to MAT (Medication Assisted Treatment), but we do want to be upfront about the fact that we do not use it at our facility.

Our doctor and addictionologist has been working in the addiction field for over a decade and has seen all types of reactions we don’t encourage at our treatment center. Call our treatment center if you want to learn more about MAT or have questions about coming off of Methadone treatment!

If you or a loved one needs help finding the right Medication-Assisted Treatment for overcoming their addiction, call us at 949-625-4019.

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