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Is Methadone an Opiate?

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Despite everything being done to curb the U.S. drug crisis, there’s still a problem with drugs containing opiates and opioids. People who take prescribed pain medication find that, after some time, it is not working as well as before, so they take more of it.

Many people who have taken painkillers will testify that they felt they became addicted to opiates or opioids rather quickly. Some of these people checked into substance abuse treatment centers where they were given methadone as part of their treatment.

What is methadone? How does it work? Is it an opiate? Why is it given to someone with OUD?

Opiates and Opioids – What’s the Difference?

Opiates are drugs that are naturally derived from the flowering opium poppy plant. Examples of opiates are heroin, morphine, and codeine. Opiate painkillers are narcotic and have a high potential for abuse and addiction.

Opioids are synthetically opiates, which means they are manmade. Some examples of these are fentanyl, hydrocodone, meperidine, and oxycodone. Opioid painkillers are also narcotic and have a high potential for abuse and addiction. The only exception to that is tramadol, which is an opioid but not a narcotic.

Opiates and Opioids Work the Same Way

Both of these types of painkillers work the same way in the brain. We have opiate

receptors in the brain that act as active sites for different types of opiates such as morphine, and opioids such as hydrocodone. Opiates and opioids bind to specific receptors mimicking the effect of pain-relieving chemicals in the brain that is naturally produced. 

The drugs bind to these receptors in the brain and spinal cord and other locations in the body. This action blocks the feeling of pain and can cause feelings of calm and well-being.

Both opiates and opioids can also make you feel drowsy, nauseous, and confused. Tolerance can build and take effect if you are taking either type of painkiller.

What Is Methadone?

Methadone is a narcotic opioid drug used in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for people with opioid use disorder.

Methadone changes the way your brain and nervous system respond to pain so that you feel relief. Its effects are slower than those of other strong painkillers like morphine. It blocks the high you get from opiates like morphine, codeine, and heroin, and also from synthetic opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone.

Methadone is prescribed in pill, liquid, and wafer forms. It is taken once a day. Pain relief from one dose lasts about four to eight hours. This drug is best utilized as a part of a comprehensive treatment plan, which includes group and individual therapy. It should not be used alone.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two methadone products for the treatment of opioid dependence:

  • Dolophine (methadone hydrochloride) tablets
  • Methadose (methadone hydrochloride) oral concentrate

 How Methadone Treatment Works

 An estimated 70 to 90 percent of heroin users returned to using drugs after their treatment. 

Methadone maintenance is known to reduce or eliminate the use of heroin. It lowers death rates and reduces the criminality related to opioid use. It allows people to improve their health and lives. It also reduces the spread of infectious disease by curtailing the use of shared needles and/or risky sexual behavior.

Methadone treatment is a valuable option for people fighting with heroin addiction to abstain from using opiate drugs. This treatment is medically safe. Therapy is often given to those who have been resistant to treatment before. It is used in successful medication-assisted therapy.

Below is a description of how methadone is used in opioid treatment. 

Methadone is an opioid analgesic that can be used to treat pain. However, it has a positive reputation for treating opioid addiction. When someone who’s abusing heroin or painkillers chooses a methadone maintenance program, they begin by receiving daily doses of methadone.

Methadone has a long half-life for an opiate. It does take several days of daily use to reach its peak impact. When the individual reaches the peak level of effect, they are considered to be on a “stable” dose of methadone. 

Once this state is achieved, methadone binds to opioid receptors in the brain that prevents them from experiencing withdrawals. It will also curb cravings that would be intensely felt otherwise. 

Methadone is different in that it doesn’t give the user the feeling of euphoria that heroin or other opioid narcotics would. Methadone blocks the effects of other opioids.

Once the individual has been stabilized on methadone, he or she will continue methadone maintenance on a tapered schedule. This means a medical professional overseeing the process steadily decreases the dose until the individual is no longer physically dependent on opioids of any kind.

 Conclusion

Methadone is not an opiate but an opioid. The difference is that opiates are made from the flower of the poppy plant, and opioids are synthetically made. Methadone is known to be a valuable resource in treating people with opioid use disorder. While some people in the recovery community do not believe it is right treating drug addiction with another drug, the benefits of methadone treatment outweigh the concerns. 

Sources

WebMD.com. What is Methadone? from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/what-is-methadone#1

How Opiates Impact the Brain and Body Kendra Cherry. August 26, 2019 from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-are-opiates-2795406

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Methadone. from https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/treatment/methadone

U.S. Library of Natural Medicine. Medline Plus. Opioid Misuse and Addiction. from https://medlineplus.gov/opioidmisuseandaddiction.html

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Information about Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). from https://www.fda.gov/drugs/information-drug-class/information-about-medication-assisted-treatment-mat

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