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Is It Safe to Take Methadone (for Heroin Detox) at Home?

Methadone is a prescription opioid drug that can be used to treat addiction to more potent opioids, such as heroin. It can also be used as a painkiller.
It is most commonly prescribed as a replacement for heroin, however, as it helps to prevent severe physical withdrawal symptoms when someone wants to stop using heroin. Methadone provides the same physiological effects on the body that heroin does without creating the sensation of being high.
Methadone should be used with medical supervision as part of a substance abuse treatment program. While it may be possible to take methadone at home in some instances, as part of long-term maintenance plans, all use of methadone must be supervised by a physician.

Methadone for Opioid Withdrawal

Someone who wishes to stop using heroin may be prescribed methadone to aid in the recovery process. The person will not experience the rewarding high of heroin that encourages drug use. They will also avoid the difficult withdrawal symptoms that would otherwise present themselves.
The amount of methadone someone takes is gradually reduced over several weeks or months until they no longer need to take it. This process gives the body time to adjust to the opioid leaving the system.

Methadone is a popular medication to ease the pain of withdrawal because it can also help with psychological symptoms in addition to the physical ones. Methadone is a depressant drug, so it helps to relieve anxiety and emotional pain that can surface during withdrawal.
The medication can help people feel more like themselves again and establish emotional stability during the recovery process as clients strive to get their lives on track.

How Do You Take Methadone?

Methadone comes in a variety of forms. It can be prescribed as a tablet, powder, or liquid. Typically, methadone is administered in the form of a green syrup. Most forms of methadone are swallowed, though it can be injected as well. 

Methadone is a long-acting drug, so it only needs to be taken once a day. There are many effects of heroin withdrawal that methadone ultimately controls. Among them are:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach cramping and pain
  • Sweating and chills
  • Fever
  • Shaking
  • Nervousness and anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Muscle aches, pains, and spasms
  • Heroin cravings

Taking prescribed dosages of methadone lessens the above symptoms and creates a safe and successful withdrawal process. The effects of methadone are felt relatively quickly and usually last for many hours. Like any drug, however, methadone use comes with a set of potential side effects. 

  • Shallow breathing or difficulty breathing
  • Lightheadedness or feeling faint
  • Allergic reaction, including hives or rash, and swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat
  • Chest pain
  • Fast or pounding heartbeat
  • Hallucinations or confusion

The dosage of methadone prescribed to you will depend on your history of heroin use and physical and emotional health, and your goals for addiction treatment, such as how quickly you wish to get off all substances. You and your treatment provider will work together to determine the most appropriate dosage as well as your tapering plan to get off methadone.

Where to Take Methadone

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) explains that methadone can be given out only through SAMHSA-certified opioid treatment programs. Such treatment programs can be part of formal inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment programs.
Methadone clinics are also available in many communities. People can visit on a daily basis to get their dose of methadone before going back to their daily lives. 

All opioid treatment programs are required by law to provide a comprehensive set of services that include:

  • Medical treatment
  • Personal counseling
  • Vocational services
  • Educational services
  • Mental health assessment and treatment services

The above services can be provided through hospitals, correctional facilities, private doctors’ offices, and remote methadone clinics. Federal law requires that anyone who receives medically assisted treatment, such as methadone treatment, must receive counseling to provide holistic addiction treatment and increase the effectiveness of the treatment services.
As of January 2018, methadone maintenance treatment was available in all but three U.S. states.

Methadone Addiction

SAMHSA explains that long-term methadone use should be done with caution, as it is possible to become addicted to it.

Methadone is a strong opioid, and like all opioids, it can be addictive.

While methadone was created to treat heroin addiction, it has become a drug of abuse, and many people misuse it to get high. 

Methadone pills in front of a pill bottle

When methadone is being used recreationally, tolerance to it can develop quickly, just like it does to any opioid. If you find yourself taking increasingly higher doses of methadone, using it for getting high, or using it in any way other than as prescribed by a doctor, you could be struggling with methadone misuse. Such patterns of behavior indicate a need for substance abuse treatment.

How to Safely Use Methadone

Methadone is typically used in one of two ways. It can be used for maintenance therapy or to help someone going through withdrawal.
Methadone for maintenance purposes applies to long-term addiction treatment programs that can last for months or years. It is safe to take methadone for extended periods to reduce the risks associated with drug use and assist individuals with improving their quality of life while they tackle their issues with substance use. 

Using methadone for withdrawal plays an important role in short-term detoxification programs, usually from heroin. These detox programs usually last for one to two weeks and are aimed at helping to relieve the uncomfortable physical side effects of withdrawal.
Many doctors recommend medication-assisted treatment (MAT), such as methadone, to ease the withdrawal process and improve treatment outcomes. People who receive medical assistance during detox are more likely to complete their detox programs, participate in behavioral therapy, and maintain sobriety following treatment.  

Using methadone to taper off opioids is a safe process when done thoughtfully under medical supervision. If you stick to your tapering plan and gradually reduce your methadone use as planned, your chances of becoming addicted to methadone are low.

Can You Take Methadone Without Medical Oversight?

Methadone can be prescribed to people to take on their own at home. If doctors believe their patients can adhere to dosage schedules, they may send their patients home with a prescription and a treatment plan that will help get them off heroin.
Many substance abuse professionals are wary of providing methadone for self-administration at home, however. Someone with a history of substance abuse may be too tempted to misuse the prescription. 

Taking methadone without any medical oversight can put you at risk for misusing the drug. Consulting with a medical professional allows for the creation of an appropriate and effective treatment plan to help you taper off methadone over time.
It can be very difficult to estimate appropriate dosages and to create a tapering schedule for yourself. Again, without medical oversight, you may be putting yourself at risk for misusing methadone and developing an addiction to it.
Medical professionals can help you track your tolerance to the drug, the effectiveness of the methadone, and adjust your tapering plan to ensure it is the most effective for getting you off heroin and eventually off methadone as well.

The Necessity of Therapy 

Substance abuse professionals recognize that methadone treatment is most successful when it is a part of a well-rounded treatment program that addresses all the individual’s needs.
Detox alone does little to change long-term patterns of substance abuse. Following a successful detox with behavioral therapy and participation in support groups and other activities that support the body and mind is the best way to instill long-term habits of healthy living.

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The Bottom Line

Methadone can be a powerful tool in the recovery process. People who use methadone are more successful at quitting heroin than people who do not take methadone during the withdrawal process. People who attempt to quit heroin without the aid of methadone exhibit higher rates of relapse and are at a much greater risk of overdose following a period of abstinence. Methadone helps to stabilize people who are coming off a drug and allows them to enter behavioral therapy sooner rather than later. Therapy can start while you are still using methadone, as methadone is unlikely to produce a high when used medically; it also encourages mental stability.

When used in conjunction with behavioral therapy that addresses underlying issues leading to substance misuse, methadone provides a strong basis for addiction recovery. It is recommended that recovering heroin users take methadone under medical supervision as part of a comprehensive treatment program.

Sources

Methadone. Talk to Frank. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.talktofrank.com/drug/methadone#how-do-people-take-it

(September 2015). Methadone. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/treatment/methadone

(September 2018). Methadone and Reducing the Harm of Quitting Heroin. Verywell Mind. Retrieved January 2019 from from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-methadone-4137755

(January 2018). Opioid Addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/evidence-based-approaches-to-drug-addiction-treatment/pharmacotherapies

(October 2018). What is Methadone? Alcohol and Drug Foundation. Retrieved January 2019 from https://adf.org.au/drug-facts/methadone/

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