What is a Methadone Clinic?

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Methadone clinics, also known as substance use disorder services clinics (SUDs), dispense medications to people addicted to opioids. Methadone is one of the most common (but not the only medication) provided by these clinics. Medically assisted or medication assistance therapy helps people addicted to opioids manage and recover from their addiction with fewer risks. 

Methadone is a schedule II long-lasting opioid that delays withdrawal symptoms, reduces the risk of overdose, and allows time for detoxification from heroin and other short-acting opioids.

Methadone

In the United States, methadone is only available under a physician’s supervision and must be dispensed through a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)-certified and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)-registered treatment program. 

How Does a Methadone Clinic Work? 

Methadone clinics are a resource for people recovering from opioid addiction. This includes a variety of treatments in addition to methadone and other medication-assisted treatments (MAT).

Methadone is an opioid, but it’s long-lasting and stays active in the body for 24 to 36 hours. While active, it blocks the euphoria felt when taking other opioids. It eases painful withdrawal symptoms, decreasing the risk of relapse during the critical detoxification phase.

Initially, methadone treatment centers evaluate you and determine where you are in the recovery process. Methadone is addictive, so it’s important for clinic staff to closely monitor you during the dispensing process.

Methadone offers a safer option for opioid withdrawal and recovery, but dosing isn’t risk-free. This is why it’s so important for clinic staff to evaluate someone’s medical and drug-use history before dispensing this type of treatment.

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Commonly Treated Opioid Addictions 

The use of methadone to treat opioid addiction has increased in popularity in recent years. It’s effective for treating a variety of common opioid addictions, including:

Codeine

Codeine is the active ingredient in over-the-counter cough syrups. It’s very dangerous and addictive when used improperly, in part because the liver converts it to morphine. The most common way of abusing codeine is mixing it with Sprite to make “lean.”

Oxymorphone (Opana)

Oxymorphone is a schedule II analgesic. Addiction rates increased when the drug was approved in tablet form.

Hydrocodone and Oxycodone

This is one of the most commonly involved drugs in overdoses in the early 2000-teens. Many people still struggle with addiction. Hydrocodone is a prescription medication, which leads some users to mistakenly assume it isn’t addictive or dangerous.

Morphine

Morphine is difficult to secure, so addiction to the drug is less common. In some cases, people prescribed morphine for pain relief develop an addiction and must transfer to using more-readily available drugs to satisfy their craving once their doctor refuses them morphine. This is the case with many opioid addictions. What begins as doctor-supervised use spirals out of control and develops into an addiction.

Heroin

Heroin is one of the most addictive and deadly drugs in existence. The vast majority of heroin addictions are linked to prescription opioid use. Heroin use quickly leads to physical deterioration, health problems, and life-altering addictions. Detoxification and withdrawal symptoms are severe and potentially dangerous. 

Tips for How to Get into a Methadone Clinic 

Methadone is a highly regulated substance intended to treat opioid use disorder. This makes it difficult for some people to get access to it. Methadone programs must follow specific treatment guidelines and, in some cases, this results in certain people being denied treatment.

People in need of methadone treatment must meet certain eligibility requirements based on their addiction and their desire to recover. Medical professionals look closely at a person’s past use of drugs and whether they’ve attempted and failed at recovery before.

Admission to methadone treatment facilities entails meeting certain eligibility requirements based on addiction severity and motivation to get well. Methadone programs place a heavy emphasis on a person’s history of drug use as well as any evidence of drug-seeking behavior. 

To determine if a person qualifies for methadone treatment, an applicant must:

  • Undergo blood and urine samples for drug testing
  • Provide information on their history of drug abuse
  • Undergo a physical exam
  • Provide information concerning their previous or existing mental health issues

Additionally, some programs have an age requirement. Doctors also gauge a person’s addiction severity based on several factors including:

  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Inability to control the amount of opioid used (overdose risk)
  • Increasing tolerance level
  • Failed attempts to stop using
  • Investing time and money in getting the drug regardless of negative consequences
  • Loss of interest in work, recreation, and social activities
  • What family members have to say about the patient’s substance use

Methadone Clinic Eligibility Requirements

For admittance into a methadone clinic program, you’ll need to undergo a physical and mental health examination, an assessment regarding drug use, and drug testing.

According to federal regulations, for a clinic to meet eligibility requirements, it must:

  • Administer complete physical examinations by a doctor or healthcare professional to each patient
  • Offer services for pregnant patients
  • Provide an initial assessment that includes a treatment plan and periodic assessments throughout treatment
  • Substance use counseling
  • Social and psychological assessments
  • At least eight random drug tests per year

How Long Does it Take to Get into a Methadone Clinic?

The length of time it takes to get into a methadone clinic varies based on the severity of addiction and the programs in a geographical region. Some people are admitted immediately to a program, while others must wait days or weeks for admittance.

What to Look for in an Opioid Rehabilitation Clinic 

Finding the right methadone clinic to help you with addiction should not be frustrating or difficult. Look for a clinic that:

  • Is near your home and/or loved ones
  • Has plenty of experience and is an established facility with a good reputation
  • Offers customizable treatment plans that fit your needs
  • Accepts Medicaid or whatever type of insurance you have or is willing to work with you regarding your financial situation 

What to Expect at a Methadone Clinic 

There are three things you can expect when visiting a methadone clinic, regardless of the specific clinic including:

Common Side Effects of Methadone

Methadone is a safer option than other opioids, but it’s still a drug, so side effects occur. The most common side effects include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Drowsiness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Retention of urine
  • Insomnia

Some patients also experience paranoia, anxiety, and delusions.

In some cases, side effects are severe and include:

  • Restlessness
  • Heavy sweating
  • Slowed breathing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Irregular heartbeat

Severe side effects might interfere with methadone’s effectiveness. It’s important to share with your doctor if you experience any of these less likely side effects.

Types of Treatment Methadone Clinics Provide

Most people can expect to use methadone in combination with other therapies while visiting a clinic. The three most common treatment options used in conjunction with medication-assisted therapy include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT helps addicted people change their behaviors and develop healthy coping skills.
  • Medical detox/supervision: The withdrawal process can be intense and potentially dangerous and sometimes requires medical supervision.
  • Group therapy and counseling services: Talking about addiction-related issues with peers helps you feel understood and not alone.

How Long is Treatment? 

The length of time required for methadone treatment varies from person to person.  The method by which methadone is delivered also affects the length of treatment and recovery.

Methadone delivered subcutaneously begins working within 30 to 60 minutes. The same timeframe applies to oral administration. In both cases, the effects of methadone last up to 48 hours.

Methadone is addictive, which is why it’s so important to use it under a doctor’s supervision. Some people use methadone on and off throughout their life to manage their addiction. The length of time a phase of methadone treatment lasts varies based on a person’s withdrawal symptoms, frequency of opioid use, and length of time they used.

When is Methadone Treatment the Wrong Choice?

Methadone is an effective addiction recovery treatment for most people addicted to opioids. However, like all medical treatment services, it isn’t right for everyone. 

If you’ve tried methadone in the past and it worsened your addiction or you’ve had severe side effects, you and your doctor should discuss alternate addiction treatments.

Whether or not you can use methadone to support your recovery, you might want to try alternative treatments. Some of the most beneficial things to incorporate into your recovery include:

  • Establishing a nutritious diet
  • Exercising
  • Getting sufficient sleep
  • Staying busy
  • Working on personal relationships
  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Identify your drug-use triggers
  • Building a strong support network
  • Compile an “emergency contact” list of people to contact when cravings occur

How Much Does an Opioid Rehab Clinic Cost?

The cost of treatment from an opioid rehab clinic varies based on a variety of factors. The US Department of Defense estimates the average cost of methadone treatment to be $126 per day to $6552 per year. This is somewhat more expensive than the cost of buprenorphine treatment and significantly less than naltrexone treatment.

Addiction treatment with methadone is more expensive than treating other medical conditions, such as diabetes or kidney disease. However, this only takes into account the direct cost of addiction. 

Indirect costs associated with addiction include secondary costs, such as criminal justice expenses and treatment of:

  • Infants born to addicted mothers
  • Transmission of infectious diseases related to drug use
  • Overdose
  • Injuries related to drug use

Some estimates show the cost of dealing with opioid addiction and overdose to be as much as $80 billion per year. Only a small portion (less than $3 billion) is associated with treatment.

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Resources +

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “How Much Does Opioid Treatment Cost?” Drugabuse.gov, 2019, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/medications-to-treat-opioid-addiction/how-much-does-opioid-treatment-cost.

“Methadone.” www.samhsa.gov, https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/medications-counseling-related-conditions/methadone.

“Methadone: MedlinePlus Drug Information.” Medlineplus.gov, Nov. 2019, https://www.medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682134.html.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What Are the Treatments for Heroin Use Disorder?” Drugabuse.gov, 2018, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-treatments-heroin-use-disorder.

 “Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) | SAMHSA - Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.” Samhsa.gov, 21 July 2015, https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment.

“Opioid Overdose.” Www.samhsa.gov, https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/medications-counseling-related-conditions/opioid-overdose.

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