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What are the Different Types of Methadone Therapy?

By Marlene Garcia
Updated May 17, 2024
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Methadone therapy generally falls into two categories: to relieve severe pain and as a substitute drug for heroin addicts to wean them off the illegal substance. In some cases, methadone is also used on patients addicted to oxycodone, an opioid also used for severe pain control. Methadone commonly eases withdrawal effects from heroin and oxycodone — and other opioid addictions — even though it is also classified as an opioid drug.

Special clinics offer methadone therapy in some areas. A heroin addict visits the clinic daily to receive a dose of methadone while trying to kick his or her heroin habit. Methadone therapy usually eases the craving for heroin by blocking receptors in the brain. It does not provide the high or euphoric feeling of heroin, but allows the patient to withdraw slowly. Some withdrawal symptoms might still be present, but they usually are not as severe.

Doses of methadone for drug withdrawal are typically closely monitored by clinic staff, and the patient is required to take his or her daily dosage under supervision. Sometimes, doctors working at methadone therapy clinics must obtain special licenses to administer the drug for withdrawal symptoms. These safeguards are in place to prevent the abuse of methadone and lessen the chance it will be sold as a street drug.

Methadone therapy clinics routinely offer counseling as part of a program to address heroin addiction. Once the patient moves past withdrawal symptoms, he or she commonly remains on a maintenance dose of methadone for months or years. Some patients later go through a detoxification program to get off methadone.

In some cases, methadone therapy also is effectively used to wean patients off oxycodone when they have become addicted to it. A physician gradually replaces doses of oxycodone with methadone until the patient no longer suffers withdrawal symptoms. Although this therapy can wean a patient off one drug, methadone is also considered an addictive drug. Different countries have approved methadone for different uses.

Health officials commonly use certain criteria to evaluate likely candidates for methadone therapy. The patient might be using increasing amounts of heroin or oxycodone, and attempts to control usage have failed because of intense withdrawal symptoms. Doctors also determine if drug use is interfering with work or daily life, and if the patient has turned to criminal activity to support his or her habit.

The most common side effects reported by those using methadone therapies include drowsiness and dizziness. It can also cause nausea and vomiting, and the patient might retain urine. Adverse reactions also are possible for patients who drink heavily or suffer from heart or lung disease. It should also be noted that methadone can cause liver and kidney damage in some people.

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