Methadone maintenance

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Methadone maintenance treatment is the use of methadone, a synthetic, habit forming drug used as a substitute, administered over a prolonged period of time (can be indefinite), as treatment for someone who is addicted to opioids (such as heroin), where detoxification has been unsuccessful and/or admittance to a substance abuse treatment facility requires complete abstinence.[1][2][3][4] "Methadone maintenance makes possible a first step toward social rehabilitation. . ." (Auerbach, 1976 p. 26) by fixing and maintaining the level of drugs in an addicts system thereby avoiding the uncomfortable and commonly intense withdrawal symptoms that abstinence from the substance of abuse initiates.[1] Methadone maintenance can also be used for those that suffer with severe pain problems that are resistant to other drugs.


Methadone maintenance has been used to treat opioid dependence for more than 45 years (invented in 1937).[2][4] Therapeutic dosing is contingent upon individual patient needs, and the therapeutic dosage range is generally between 25 to 150 mg. Such a dose would not be tolerated by an opioid-naive individual. The amount of oral Methadone that an addicted individual will require is dependent on the amount of illicit substance that they have previously been used to, but as a general rule 1 gram of street Heroin is roughly equivalent to 50 to 80 mg of Methadone.[5] Methadone is taken either orally as DTF (Drug Tariff Formula) Methadone mixture 1 mg/1ml which is supplied as a red or clear liquid, but can now also be prescribed as a mixture containing 10 mg of Methadone in 1ml of liquid (blue color) or Methadone 20 mg in 1ml (brown color). This is often used when a person is on a large amount of Methadone and is rarely permitted for consumption unsupervised, because these formulations are not as viscous as the 1 mg/1ml mixture, they are more prone to mis-use as they are easier to inject, and also due to the high risk of diverted medication causing an overdose in an individual that is not used to such a large dose. An individual who is prescribed 200 mg would only have to ingest 20ml of 10 mg/1ml mixture, thus making it easier to take. Methadone Maintenance can also be delivered by either IV or IM injection, and ampoules come in various strengths from 10 mg up to 50 mg, this method is often used for individuals who have a "needle fixation" and who would otherwise revert to using iv heroin.[5] Methadone is widely distributed to body tissues where it is stored and then released into the plasma. This combination of storage and release keeps the patient comfortable, free from craving, and feeling stable.

With the emergence of several treatment options such as buprenorphine (Buprenorphine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in October 2000), and heroin treatment (Switzerland & U.K.) since 1990 some professionals no longer hold with the opinion of the General Accounting Office and maintain that buprenorphine is superior.[6] This trend is being expanded in the Western U. S. in the Human Services field.


Methadone maintenance generally requires patients to visit the dispensing or dosing clinic daily, depending on state controlled substance laws. Most states allow Methadone clinics to close on Sundays and provide medication (take homes or exception doses)prior to the closed day/s. States may require or mandate drug testing, in clinic drug abuse groups and/or outside Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Generally, after 90 days take home medication and group meetings privileges are extended to more take homes and less mandated meetings, but the amount that clinics will let individuals take home has been reduced in recent years, this is as a result of Methadone diversion (selling the Methadone to other addicts) and to protect children who may be present in the household of the prescribed individual. Methadone, at constant daily milligram doses will stabilize patients and relieve all withdrawal symptoms. Patients will not feel the usual "high" or "euphoria" associated with methadone, other opiates, or heroin abuse.

In the UK, the prescribing model has changed over the years, from being the norm to prescribe 14 days of Methadone to take home from day 1 of the treatment outset, to today's model (2015) that leans more to on-site supervised consumption. The reasons for such a shift in practice is to reduce the "diversion" of prescribed Methadone onto the black market and to ensure that individuals are in fact taking the dose as required. Most clinics will start a new patient at 35mg, increasing 5mg or 10mg per day until stabilization is achieved - this is to ensure that a newly prescribed person is not accidentally overdosed by the methadone and that the right amount for that person can be titrated without over prescribing: some users exaggerate the amount of illicit substance that they previously used in order to be prescribed a larger amount of methadone, but careful administration and a knowledgeable practitioner should be able to ascertain when the correct dose has been reached for that particular individual. It is now normal to prescribe daily on-site consumption for the first three months and then to move to daily pick up and consumption off site. Such a move should be considered as a reinforcement of the trust between prescriber and patient, but it is at the sole discretion of the prescriber when and if take home supplies will be allowed.[5]


In the UK, persons on MMT who wish to go overseas are subject to certain legal requirements surrounding the exportation of and importation of Methadone. Those wishing to go overseas must provide the prescriber with checkable details of travel, after which the prescriber will arrange for a Home Office Export Licence to be provided so that it is then legal to remove the Methadone from the country. This licence is only required if the total amount being exported exceeds 500 mg. The granting of the licence does not provide for the importation of the Methadone into any overseas jurisdiction. For importation, the prescribed individual should contact the Embassy of the country of destination and request permission to import Methadone onto their shores, and it should be noted that not all countries allow the importation of controlled drugs and that some countries only allow certain drugs to be imported. The licence also allows for the re-importation of any remaining Methadone back into the UK, but this amount should only be minimal as the mediction should have been used by the time of return, otherwise questions may be raised as to why there is a large amount remaining. When travelling, it is normal for Methadone tablets to be dispensed, as the tablets make for easier transportation, even more so now that quantities of liquids are no longer allowed into the cabins of commercial airlines. Prescribers will normally also issue a "To whom it may concern" letter stating that the individual is currently in treatment and is legally entitled to be in possession of the Methadone. For those who are going to be overseas for a prolonged period of time, "courtesey" dosing arrangements should be made with a local clinc who will arrange for the prescription of the necessary medication in accordance with the patients treatment plan.[5]


Methadone maintenance is otherwise known as drug replacement therapy or ORT (Opiate Replacement Therapy), and has been the subject of much controversy since its inception.[1][2][6] In the beginning, medical researchers responsible for the creation of these drug replacement therapy treatment facilities had high hopes that the methadone maintenance treatment would put an end to heroin addiction in America.[1] However, as early as 1976, just 10 years into their project, Dr. Vincent Dole and his wife Marie E. Nyswander reported their findings to the Journal of the American Medical Association which stated that an unforeseen opposition to the substitution of one drug for the other appeared to be affecting the success of Methadone maintenance treatment programs.[1]

In England and Wales, criminal justice drugs workers employed by the 'Drug Interventions Programme' are based in most arrest suites nationwide. Heroin and crack cocaine users are identified either by mandatory urine tests (in areas known as DIP 'intensive'), or by cell-sweeps and face-to-face discussions with arrestees (in areas known as DIP 'non-intensive' sites). Identified drug use will often trigger a referral to local drug services, whose first line response to heroin dependence is likely to involve substitute (buprenorphine or methadone) prescribing.

This line of work originated in the mid- to late-1990s, as large-scale studies identified significant levels of heroin and crack cocaine use in populations of arrestees (particularly for theft offences). In a large-scale study of drug misuse in arrested populations, Holloway and Bennett[7] identified 466 'drug misusing repeat offenders.' Of these, 80% declared an 'unmet need for treatment' (2004:33)

Contemporaneously, the National Treatment Outcomes Research Study (NTORS) found high levels of acquisitive (money-related) offending in populations of people seeking community treatment for drug problems. In one early NTORS report, Godfrey et al.[8] identified that every £1 spent on drug treatment could yield between £9.50 and £18 of savings in social costs, mostly attributable to reductions in treatment seekers' levels of offending.

These studies, along with others,[9][10][11] were taken on by Tony Blair whilst still Shadow Home Secretary, as Conservative policy regarding drug misuse was relatively undeveloped. Blair disseminated a press release in 1994 entitled Drugs: the Need for Action, claiming that drug misuse caused £20bn of acquisitive crime each year; a report dismissed by the Conservative Secretary of State for the Home Department as 'four pages of hot waffle against the Government, with three miserable paragraphs at the end' (Hansard, 10 March 1994, column 393).

After winning the UK general election of 1997, Blair's first cross-governmental drug strategy established the nationwide development of an integrated drugs / crime strategy a priority. Drugs workers were in police custody suites nationwide, and seeing 50,000 people each year, in 2001.[12] The work of these teams was then formalised in 2003, given an expanded remit (working with prisoners following release, for example) and rebadged the Drug Interventions Programme.

The founding strapline for DIP was, significantly, 'out of crime, into treatment' - reflecting the crime-reduction philosophy behind criminal justice drug treatment and ongoing methadone (or buprenorphine) maintenance at that time.

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  1. ^ a b c d e Auerbach, Stuart (May 10, 1976). "Methadone Unable To End Heroin Use" (PDF). The New York Daily Press. p. 26. Retrieved 12 June 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c Schwartz, Harvey (April 7, 1973). "County methadone clinic controversy continues" (PDF). The New York Daily Press. Retrieved 12 June 2012. 
  3. ^ Breining and 5 others (multiple contributors), Bernard G. (2005). The Addiction Professional: Manual for Counselor Competency. Orangevale, California: Breining Institute. p. 163. 
  4. ^ a b Joseph, PH.D., Herman; Sharon Stancliff, M.D.,; John Langrod, PH.D. (October–November 2000). "Methadone Maintenance Treatment (MMT): A Review of Historical and Clinical Issues" (PDF). The Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine 67 (5 and 6): 347. Retrieved 12 June 2012. 
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  6. ^ a b "Narcotic Treatment Programs". FAQ's Re: Licensing (Online Website). Retrieved 17 June 2012.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
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