Both methadone and naltrexone are common treatment methods for those plagued by opiate dependencies. Both are approved by the Federal Drug Administration for use in opiate addiction treatment and are widely used by recovery centers across the country, like Olalla Recovery Centers. That's where the similarities end. Read on to learn how methadone and naltrexone offer people undergoing opiate addiction treatment two very different approaches to recovery.
In 1939, a team of German scientists invented a synthetic pain medication called Hoechst 10820 in an effort to create a pain treatment that was as effective, yet less addictive than morphine. During World War II, Americans inherited the substance via war requisitions and changed its name to methadone. Today, methadone is used to treat opiate addiction and is available under a variety of different brand names.
Methadone is an opiate antagonist. It works because its molecules attach to the same pain receptors in the brain that opiates do. Methadone does not block the effects of opiates, but rather dulls the cravings for opiates by eliminating the effects of withdrawal that might drive a person to seek out and use opiates.
A single dose of methadone lasts a patient between 24 and 36 hours, after which they will again experience opiate cravings if they don't satisfy their brain's pain receptors with another dose of methadone or actual opiates. Methadone is safer than opiates; however, a patient will develop a dependency for the medication, making it in itself addictive.
Methadone is well-tested, and there are no harsh side effects associated with methadone-containing opiate treatment medications. Mild side effects such as headaches, itchy skin, and nausea are common.
Naltrexone was created by the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention under the Nixon administration in an effort to replace methadone with a non-addictive, synthetic opiate addiction treatment option. Like methadone, naltrexone is an opiate antagonist, but it works in a very different way.
Naltrexone, known by many different brand names, not only attaches to the brain's pain receptors, but it knocks any opiate molecules that happen to be hanging around off of those receptors. Instead of the gradual dulling of opiate withdrawal symptoms a person under treatment would experience with methadone, naltrexone rapidly rids the brain of opiates, making the withdrawal phase of drug addiction extremely short-lived.
Upon treatment, a patient is anesthetized and given an injection of the opiate antagonist. The opiate antagonist travels to the brain, and gets right to work on getting those opiate molecules off of the patient's pain receptors. By the time the anesthesia wears off, withdrawal is over and the patient will not experience an opiate craving unless they relapse and use an opiate.
Where methadone treatment requires a person to take daily pills or injections, naltrexone will continue to rid pain receptors of opiate molecules for a full month, making it impossible for a person to achieve a high by using opiates.
While rare, naltrexone-containing medications do pose a risk of some serious side effects, including liver damage and hepatitis. Furthermore, since naltrexone-containing medications prevent opiate effectiveness for extended periods of time, a person taking them will not be able to feel the effects of any opiate pain relief medication should they need it in an emergency.
Which Treatment Option Is Right For You?
Methadone-containing medications and naltrexone-containing medications may affect you differently depending on your level of opiate dependency, your age, and your overall general health. Only a trained professional can help you determine which treatment option is best for you. For optimal effectiveness, it is recommended you participate in a drug counseling program in conjunction with either of these two treatment options.