Does Treating Drug Addiction With Another Drug Really Help?

Does Treating Drug Addiction With Another Drug Really Help?

Tremendous controversy surrounds the practice of using Methadone and Suboxone to treat addiction to opioids such as heroin. Many addiction professionals believe that such medications should only be used briefly to help with initial withdrawal, if at all. However, a whole industry has developed around methadone maintenance treatments that can be administered for years to help patients stay away from heroin.

Some research has shown, however, that Methadone and Suboxone are not straight substitutes for heroin and other opioids, chemically speaking. Further, they are prescribed in a controlled setting and their use is monitored by medical professionals; many believe that these drugs can be used safely and effectively. The drugs are given in very specific does either under the tongue or by mouth.

Although patients will experience some of the same effects as they do when they ingest opioids, there are very important differences. When someone smokes, inhales, or injects himself or herself with heroin, there is an immediate euphoric effect which continues only briefly and ends in a “crash.” After the crash, the user will often have severe cravings for the drug so that the crash can end and the person can feel euphoric again. Because of heroin’s rapid onset and short period of action on the brain, a user will likely need heroin several times a day. The cycle of euphoria, crashing, and craving is a key characteristic of addiction and quickly leads to behavioral changes, as the user’s main focus will be on repeating the euphoric feelings as many times as possible.

When a heroin addict is put on methadone maintenance treatment (MMT), however, he will experience more subtle signs of action and there will be a smaller, yet more constant, amount of opioids in the body. Due to this controlled environment, people on methadone maintenance doses will usually not experience euphoria and, more importantly, will no longer crave heroin. In fact, if a person on methadone maintenance tries to take heroin, the “high” experienced will be markedly subdued to the point that desire for the illicit drug will eventually taper off. Patients who take methadone and Suboxone typically do not have the same physical or behavioral problems suffered by heroin users, which are caused by rapid changes in opioids levels.

Although there is still debate as to whether a person can ever be in remission from drug addiction while continuing to undergo maintenance treatment, it certainly is true that the program saves many people from fatally overdosing on heroin. Maintenance treatments also allow an individual to become stable enough to undergo treatment for medical, psychological, or other issues.

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