For nearly 50 years, methadone has been used as a transitional medication. Thousands have traded in their addictions to heroin or Oxycontin, transitioning instead to supervised methadone maintenance programs. In theory, opiate addicts are switched to methadone for short periods of time, then weaned off the drug altogether. Unfortunately, things don't always go as planned.
Methadone is a highly addictive opiate, leaving thousands with a dangerous dependency on the drug. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), methadone overdose
deaths increased by 500 percent between the years of 1999 and 2005, climbing from less than 800 to almost 4,000 deaths a year.
Dangers of Methadone Detox
The methadone detox process is widely regarded as one of the most dangerous and difficult. Many claim it's worse than heroin withdrawal. Symptoms include insomnia, sweating, muscle cramps, dehydration, nausea, and diarrhea. Even worse, the withdrawal symptoms of methadone can persist for weeks and months.
Implementing a Methadone Detox Plan
There are several factors that must be considered when detoxing from methadone, the most pressing of which is the drug's half-life.
While other opiates are metabolized and cleared from the body in a relatively short period of time, methadone lingers. The drug's elimination half-life
(the time it takes for blood levels to drop by 50 percent of peak concentration) is about 12 to 18 hours for the first dose and 13 to 47 hours for the second and third days' doses.
It's also important to understand that, since everyone's metabolism is different, no two people will experience the same detox process. What's more, assistive detox medications
have their own unique side effects following initial administration.
Suboxone and Subutex (buprenorphine) are the most often used assistive medications for methadone detox, having gained FDA approval
in 2002 to treat opiate addiction. Buprenorphine does not produce the same euphoric effects of heroin
, methadone, morphine, and other opiates
, nor is it as addictive.
Medication Assistive Treatment
A medication assisted treatment plan for methadone detox involves the use of two buprenorphine products: Subutex and Suboxone.
When the initial symptoms
of methadone withdrawal are first noted, Subutex is given for up to two days. Afterward, Subutex is replaced by Suboxone
, as it contains naloxone, a drug that prevents abuse or misuse. Suboxone therapy is continued for a determined period of time, sometimes up to 30 days.
The majority of today's addiction treatment programs
rely on buprenorphine because it significantly decreases the time it takes to detox from methadone. Without the use of medication assisted treatment, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) warns that withdrawal from methadone can take anywhere between 6 months and a year.
Learn more about the available treatment options for a safe and effective opiate detox.