Just What is Methadone?

The following information is presented to provide a brief orientation to methadone maintenance treatment. It does not answer all your questions, because everyone has different needs and treatment goals. If you have any additional questions you can always contact the staff of a Riverwood Group Treatment Center.

What is methadone?

Methadone belongs to the opioid family of drugs; it is a long acting synthetic narcotic analgesic. In the early 1960s, two New York physicians, Vincent Dole and Marie Nyswander, discovered that when methadone is taken every day, it is an effective medical treatment for opioid addiction. Since the 1960s, methadone has been used to help people who are dependent on other drugs from the same opioid family such as heroin, morphine and codeine. It is an opioid agonist, which is similar to narcotic medications, including morphine.
Return to top

How does methadone work?

Methadone is an opiate agonist, which has a series of actions similar to those of morphine and other narcotic medications. When taken on a daily basis (every 24 to 36 hours), it eliminates physical withdrawal symptoms. Additionally, when you are an effective dose level, you no longer have cravings for opioids, and if you do use, methadone blocks the euphoric effect of opioid abuse.
Return to top

How effective is methadone maintenance?

Opiate dependency is a chronic, relapsing, incurable but eminently treatable illness. The objectives of methadone maintenance treatment follow from this orientation: to improve function, lessen symptoms and discomfort, and lower the rate of mortality associated with addiction. When measured against each of these indicators, methadone maintenance is extremely effective. Compared to other major drug treatment modalities (e.g., drug free outpatient treatment, therapeutic communities and general chemical dependency treatment) methadone is the most studied treatment modality and has yielded the best results.
Return to top

Is methadone safe?

When taken as prescribed, methadone is very safe and will not cause any damage to the body or brain.
Return to top

How much methadone will I need?

There is no single methadone dose level. The amount of methadone you require to achieve the therapeutic benefits depend upon many factors, such as your body’s metabolism rate, weight, and the type and amount of opioid you were dependent upon. The proper maintenance dose is one at which narcotic cravings is averted, without creating euphoria, sedation or analgesia for 24 to 36 hours.
Return to top

How long do I need to be in treatment?

The patient determines the length of time in treatment. However, when looking at withdrawing from methadone, your treatment counselor will look for clinical indicators that are necessary for successful, long-term recovery. Research finds that most patients are in treatment between 2-3 years; however, success in treatment can be seen within months. This success comes not only from the daily administration of methadone but also from a commitment to counseling. Others remain in treatment for longer periods. All patients are evaluated for treatment progress every 90 days, with medical physical examinations every year.
Return to top