Methadone Abuse and Addiction: Do People in WA State Really Need Detox and Rehab to Recover?

The fact that Methadone addiction and abuse are possible is surprising to many people in Washington State. They do not realize how addictive this drug can be, or that treatment may be needed to get off it. This is a drug that people often stay on for years, so even if they take it appropriately, getting addicted to it is always a risk.

There is no denying the fact that Methadone can be an incredibly useful drug. It is often recommended for people receiving opioid replacement therapy to help them recover from heroin addictions. It is an excellent pain reliever, which is why doctors may recommend it for people dealing with chronic pain. But when it is misused, it can quickly lead to an addiction that is extremely hard to break. In fact, it was responsible for 6% of all overdoses in 2015, according to the CDC.

We want people to be aware of the dangers and risks associated with abusing Methadone. This drug has taken over the lives of so many people living in Washington State. These are people who may not believe that there is hope for them to recover. But we want them to know that they can.

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What Is Methadone & What Is It Used For?

Methadone is a synthetic opioid that is mainly used for pain relief and in the treatment of opioid addiction. It is one of the oldest medication-assisted therapies (MATs) and has been instrumental in helping thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, since its first use in treating addiction in the 1950s.

Methadone is uniquely structured to have a dual-pronged beneficial effect when it comes to treating opioid dependence.

The main methadone mechanism of action is to stimulate the opioid receptors of the brain – the same receptors that other opioids like heroin act upon.

The only difference is that it stimulates these receptors to a much smaller degree, thereby eliminating cravings for other drugs while still reducing the symptoms of withdrawal.

Additionally, methadone molecules also block other opioids from attaching to these receptors as well. If a recovery drug user tries to abuse an opiate while methadone is still in their system then, the effects of that drug will be blocked, thus cutting down on the incentive to use again. 

This combination of unique abilities makes it a perfect drug for treating opioid addiction.

It’s currently categorized as a Schedule II by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and as such is illegal to use outside of a clinical setting.

One of the most common uses for methadone is in the treatment of opioid addiction, usually referred to as a methadone maintenance treatment plan or MMT.

Methadone is a prime candidate for treating opioid dependence because it helps lessen the unbearable symptoms of opiate withdrawal without providing the euphoric effects that many substance abusers crave.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), methadone is particularly effective at helping heroin users reduce their opioid abuse while also keeping them in addiction treatment programs for longer.

Like many other types of MATs such as buprenorphine, methadone has come under scrutiny time and time again. Some people claim that it’s unreasonable that an illicit drug addiction is allowed to be treated by another illicit substance. After all, methadone itself is an opioid and can become addictive.

But the hard truth of the matter is that methadone (and MATs in general) work better than almost any other alternative and have been instrumental in helping numerous addicts kick some of the toughest substance use disorders.

In fact, NIDA reports that after MATs were implemented in Baltimore, heroin overdose deaths decreased by an astounding 37%. Numbers like that are tough to argue with.

Given the fact that methadone is associated with the potential of developing a physical addiction, facilities that administer it as a treatment option are highly regulated by governmental organizations.

By law, the only way a treatment facility can dispense methadone is if it is part of an opioid treatment program (OTP) that’s actually certified by SAMHSA.

These programs are exceedingly comprehensive as well. For example, SAMHSA states that an OTP must offer “medical, counseling, vocational, educational, and other assessment and treatment services, in addition to the prescribed medication.”

What’s more, these OTPs must also go through the lengthy process of receiving accreditation according to the standards of the Division of Pharmacologic Therapies (DPT), part of the SAMHSA Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT).

Methadone comes in a number of different forms:

  • Injectable solution at 10mg/mL
  • Tablet at 5mg and 10mg
  • Dispersible tablet at 40mg
  • Oral solution at 5mg/5mL and 10mg/5mL
  • Oral concentrate solution at 10mg/mL

Liquid forms of methadone are typically measured by a special dose-measuring spoon or a provided medicine cup. Dispersible tablets can be dissolved directly in at least 4 ounces of either water or other citrus flavored beverages like orange juice.

Methadone comes in a number of different brands, including:

  • Dolophine
  • Methadose
  • Methadose Sugar-Free
  • Diskets 

During the beginning of your methadone treatment program, you’ll likely be getting your doses directly from a physician or a medical professional at a certified clinic. Over time, you may be given the opportunity to administer your own dosages at home.

As the risk of abuse increases significantly when doses aren’t only administered at a licensed facility, a patient typically has to first demonstrate full compliance to the guidelines of the program and have been in recovery for around a year at least.


Benefits of Using Methadone Maintenance Treatment for Addiction

As one of the earliest mediations used in medication-assisted treatment for opioid dependency, there are a significant number of studies that have shown the long-term benefits of this treatment program.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), some of these proven benefits are:

  • Reduced use of illicit drugs
  • Reduced criminal activity
  • Reduced needle sharing
  • Reduced HIV infection rates and transmission
  • Reduced commercial sex work
  • Reduced number of reports of multiple sex partners
  • Improved social health and productivity
  • Improved health conditions
  • Better retention rates for addiction treatment
  • Reduced suicide rates
  • Reduced lethal overdoses

And while this medication might seem like the obvious solution to any opioid addiction, the exact dosages of drugs like Dolophine need to be highly catered to the needs and specificities of the individual. Not everyone reacts the same to this medication and, as such, there are more factors at play than just gender and weight.

What’s more, a successful methadone treatment program (just like any other treatment program) depends on the dedication and commitment of the substance abuser, especially when treatment is outpatient rather than inpatient.

Getting the proper daily dosage down is the key to using methadone effectively for treating opiate withdrawals. As such, the absolute best way of ensuring your future recovery and successful journey to sobriety is by following the exact instructions of your physician.

They have the experience, expertise, and medical knowhow necessary to create the kind of highly-individualized treatment program that you need to use drugs like Methadose properly.

As such, the guidelines provided here are meant only for educational purposes and in no way should substitute for the instructions of a qualified physician.

According to Drugs.com, the proper dosage for opiate withdrawals is as follows:

  • Day one doses should be administered under supervision while withdrawal symptoms are present. The initial dose should be 20 to 30mg with 5 to 10mg additional doses if withdrawal symptoms are still present after 2 to 4 hours.
  • The maximum initial dose should not exceed 30 mg and the maximum dosage on the first day should not go above 40 mg.
  • Over the first week, adjust the doses using the guideline of controlling withdrawal symptoms 2 to 4 hours after the dose. The trick is to block the effects of opiates as well as cravings without causing the sedative side effects.

This course of treatment can be continued as long as necessary along with concurrent counseling and therapy (integral to long-term recovery). The preferred outcome, however, is to gradually taper off of drugs like Diskets or Methadose and attempt to function without it.

Like many other opioid-based prescription medications, methadone can have a number of uncomfortable short-term side effects, both physical and psychological in nature.

Some of the most notable ones, provided by MedlinePlus, include:

  • Headache
  • Stomach pain
  • Sore tongue
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Vision problems
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Mood changes
  • Flushing
  • Dry mouth
  • Weight gain
  • Seizures
  • Hives
  • Swelling of the eyes, face, mouth, tongue, or throat
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Inability to get or keep an erection
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Decreased sexual desire
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Hoarseness
  • Rash
  • Itching
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Confusion
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Shivering
  • Severe muscle stiffness or twitching
  • Loss of coordination
  • Diarrhea

When methadone is used as a substance of abuse, however, it’s possible that these symptoms will increase in intensity. Beyond that, mixing methadone with other substances like alcohol, benzodiazepines, or sedatives can also exacerbate these symptoms as well.

In many cases, methadone use is part of a long-term maintenance plan with some programs lasting as long as several years. As such, it’s important to recognize the potential dangers of using methadone long-term in treating addiction, as well as the particular hazards of abusing methadone.

Methadone is at its core an opioid. And opioids carry with them a number of long-term side effects. The most notable is, of course, the risk of developing a physical dependency and an eventual addiction.

Given the highly addictive nature of methadone then, it’s incredibly important that you follow the exact orders of your prescribing physician as straying even a little can end up with the development of a dependency.

Beyond actual addiction though, NIDA also reports that research is currently being done on the long-term effects of the decreased respiration that usually goes hand-in-hand with opioid abuse. This condition (called hypoxia) is characterized by reduced oxygen flow to the brain and could result in a significant decrease in white matter.

The result could be a number of psychological and neurological side effects such as an impaired ability to make decisions, an inability to regulate behavior, impacted stress responses, permanent brain damage, and even coma.

How is Methadone Impacting People in Washington State?

As one of the more popular options during medication-assisted treatment, Methadone appears to be a lifesaver. Washington State Magazine – a publication of Washington State University – did a story on one man in particular to prove it.

At the time of the story, Kris was thirty-seven years old. He received treatment at a Methadone clinic in Spokane, and had been going there since 2008. The drug was recommended to him to help him recover from his heroin addiction.

Like many people, Kris began using opioids because he received prescriptions for hydrocodone and Oxycontin. He had been in a car accident, which resulted in pain, but he continued taking the drugs for nine years. Eventually, the FBI raided the doctor’s office and shut him down for unethical prescribing practices. Kris felt he had no choice but to turn to heroin.

Eight years is a long time to be in recovery from heroin addiction. And yet, Kris’s story is not a unique one. There are thousands of people all over the country – and hundreds in Washington State – facing the same circumstances.

Between 2003 and 2011, there were 2,173 deaths in Washington State because of accidental Methadone overdoses. There is no telling how many people have died in the state since that time because of this drug. Many are blaming the state’s Medicaid program for urging people to enter these programs and clinics. This is a very inexpensive drug, but the cost of so many lives is certainly felt all over the state.

Many of the people who died are from areas where incomes are generally lower. This suggests that Washington State specifically targeted certain groups. Medicaid patients, state employees and injured workers were all recommended for Methadone for pain.

Research has shown that Methadone does not act like other painkillers. When a person takes Oxycontin, the drug leaves their system fairly quickly. But with Methadone, it can linger for days, and even become toxic. Many patients end up falling asleep and simply do not wake up. Doctors often refer to this as the silent death.

Clearly this drug is not the life-saver that so many claim it is. It is extremely dangerous and more people need to be aware of the risks involved with using it.

Side Effects of Methadone Withdrawal

One of the most notable long-term side effects is, of course, becoming physically dependent and eventually addicted to this powerful synthetic opioid.

While true addiction is a complex disorder characterized by emotional, social, and behavioral changes, the physical dependency aspect of addiction is what causes the body to go through withdrawals.

You see, as the body builds up a tolerance to the continual presence of methadone in the system, it begins to physically and chemically adapt and make the intoxicating effects more muted in the process.

When methadone is rapidly removed from someone’s patterns of abuse, however, the body struggles to return to a state of homeostasis. As a result, detoxing from methadone can bring about a host of uncomfortable and sometimes unbearable withdrawal symptoms.

Some of these symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Chills
  • Confusion
  • Cravings
  • Depression
  • Dilated pupils
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Lightheadedness
  • Muscle pains
  • Restless legs
  • Shakes
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Sleepiness
  • Runny nose
  • Nausea
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhea
  • Depersonalization
  • Cramps
  • Concentration problems
  • Body aches

In the addiction treatment community, there are generally three types of drugs that are considered to have fatal withdrawals: alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioids like methadone.

When it comes to alcohol and benzodiazepines, the lethality is generally attributed to the way the two drugs interact with the neurotransmitter GABA and how the brain tends to overcompensate after the drugs are removed. The result can be a deadly onslaught of grand mal seizures as well as other symptoms like hallucinations and psychosis in the case of alcohol’s delirium tremens.

With opioids like methadone however, the potentially fatal withdrawals are a bit different. For example, the methadone withdrawal symptoms themselves are not actually lethal. Excruciating, yes. But fatal, no.

The real danger, however, comes from the risk of overdosing in the case of relapse. To explain, the opioid withdrawal process is painful and protracted, sometimes lasting for months at a time even. As such, many people simply cannot avoid relapsing, try as they might.

One study even found the relapse rate for their subjects was as high as 91% with 59% relapsing within the first week.

But tolerance to opioids like methadone tends to drop much faster than other drugs. If an addict relapses and then uses at the same level as they did before trying to go sober, their body may not be able to handle the potency. Thus, a potentially fatal overdose occurs.

So, while the immediate withdrawal symptoms may not be fatal by themselves, they can be the impetus for relapsing during detox and increasing the risk of a lethal overdose.

Dealing with Methadone Overdose

There are a few things to remember before calling emergency services. First, do not force the person overdosing to throw up unless you’re told to do so by qualified medical personnel. Doing so may cause damage to the esophagus or cause the vomit to leak into the lungs which can be very problematic.

It is also helpful to have a bit of information ready beforehand including the person’s age, weight, and condition, the type of medicine and how much was swallowed, and when the medication was swallowed in the first place.

If you suspect an overdose, call 911 or the national poison help hotline at 1-800-222-1222.

So many people have tried to do just that, but for most of them, it doesn't work. This is because their addictions are much stronger than they think they are. These individuals don't realize the power this drug can have over their lives.

Amytal treatment centers off you unconditional support, guidance and accountability. These are so important for the recovery process to be successful. You'll be working with professionals who know the best way to help patient recover. This knowledge is incredibly valuable as you think about the long-term outcome.

Getting Treated for a Methadone Addiction

It is never a good idea for a person to stop using Methadone on their own. As we stated earlier, quitting this drug typically leads to severe withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can lead people to go back to using the drug, or it can drive them back to using other opioids.

A professional, medical drug detox should be the very first step in Methadone addiction recovery. This allows the individual to get treatment for their withdrawal symptoms as the body detoxes. Many addicts may be recommended for an appropriate medication-assisted treatment, such as Suboxone or Buprenorphine. These are both considered to be much safer. Vivitrol is another option that is non-addictive and that has shown promising results.

Afterward, going to rehab is highly recommended. People need to come to terms with the reasons behind their substance abuse problems. If they suffer from co-occurring disorders, they need to be treated to give them the best possible chance of success.

Our Outpatient Rehab Center in Washington State

At Northpoint the Evergreen, we offer a high-quality outpatient drug rehab program for anyone with a Methadone addiction. We have two locations for our clients’ convenience; one in Bellevue and one in Seattle.

For clients who are addicted to Methadone, our first course of action is to refer them for detox at a facility that we know and trust. Once they have detoxed off the drug – which may take a week to ten days, or possibly more – they are ready to return to us for rehab.

We offer three levels of care at our facilities. Our clients are recommended for either intensive outpatient treatment, partial hospitalization or our traditional outpatient rehab. This allows us to better tend to the unique needs of every client we work with.

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Get More Information About Methadone Addiction, Abuse and Treatment

At Northpoint the Evergreen, we care about our clients and we want them to be successful with their addiction treatment. We know how powerful Methadone is, and we understand the risks people take when they use it. We are here to provide the help people need to recover and be free.

Do you have questions about Methadone abuse and addiction in Washington State? Are you interested in learning more about detox and rehab? Please contact us today.

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