Extended Methadone Treatment Could Have Health Drawbacks

Extended Methadone Treatment Could Have Health Drawbacks

Methadone is a treatment commonly used in substance abuse treatment centers as a way to help heroin addicts overcome their cravings and offset the withdrawal experience. For some addicts, the use of methadone is the help they need to achieve full recovery.

Recent research, however, has highlighted some risks associated with long-term use of the drug. Conducted at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, the findings show that the extended use of methadone may lead to damage in nerve cells located in the brain.

The findings add to a body of research documenting the possible consequences of long-term methadone use, including recent studies showing that methadone had a negative effect on cognitive functions related to memory and learning.

Because of the limitations in testing the effects of methadone in humans, the researchers conducted their tests using animal models. The rats were given a dose of methadone every day for three weeks. After treatment, the researchers removed the areas of the brain critical for memory and learning, and assessed whether there were any neurobiological changes in the brain or damage to the areas examined.

One study showed that following the final day of exposure to methadone, there was a notable reduction of about 70 percent in the level of one molecule critical for learning and memory. The change was recorded in both the hippocampus and the frontal area of the brain.

At the time of the examination, there was no longer any methadone in the brain. Therefore, the researchers found that methadone may lead to cellular changes affecting cognitive functions after the drug is no longer in the system.

In another study, conducted in partnership with Southwestern University in Texas, there was an evaluation of how methadone impacts the formation of nerve cells located in the hippocampus. Other studies have shown in the past that the hippocampus generates new nerve cells, which are probably related to memory and learning.

In addition, previous research has shown that opiates like heroin and morphine can interfere with this production. The study sought to understand whether methadone, also an opiate, could also be shown to interfere with cell development for learning and memory.

The researchers did not find a connection between decreases in the generation of nerve cells following long-term treatment involving methadone. This finding provides support for the use of methadone as a treatment for ending heroin addiction.

Methadone has been a commonly-used treatment for aiding in heroin addiction recovery. More information is needed however about its long-term effects. The studies discussed above provide contrasting viewpoints of the drug’s risks related to cognitive functioning. More research is needed to determine how methadone may affect nerve cells in the brain.

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