What Is A Methadone Clinic?

Opioid treatment programs (OTPs) like Methadone clinics offer medication to assist someone with an addiction to opioids. Methadone is a synthetic opioid given at minimal doses under the supervision of medical staff daily. It has a long history of successfully helping people with opioid use disorders (OUDs), as it blocks the effects of opioids and prevents withdrawal symptoms and cravings from occurring.

Methadone clinics offer medicine in several forms, including:

  • Liquid concentrate
  • Powder that dissolves in water
  • Dispersible tablets that dissolve in water
  • Tablets

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and other government entities regulate methadone clinics.

How Do Methadone Clinics Work?

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, patients of a methadone clinic had to physically go to the clinic each day to receive their dose of Methadone. Over time, they were able to occasionally take their methadone doses home, like over a long weekend.

To remain in good standing, a person in an OTP had to have a substantial amount of time in which they did not use illicit opioids, had stability and good functioning, and attended counseling with clinicians.

After the COVID-19 shutdown, methadone clinics began developing more flexible protocols to avoid patients missing doses and risking relapse. The federal government allows methadone clinics to provide services in a variety of new ways, such as:

  • 14 days of take-home doses for less stable patients
  • 28 days of take-home doses for more stable patients
  • Curbside treatment
  • Telehealth
  • Medication drop-off
  • Medication pick-up by a trusted person

Are Methadone Clinics Appropriate For Everyone?

Methadone clinics are not for everyone. A comprehensive assessment helps physicians and counselors determine if someone fits the program well. Most clinics require a person to meet the following criteria:

  • Age 18 or older unless a parent or guardian consents
  • At least one year of moderate to severe opioid addiction
  • Voluntarily consents to treatment
  • Passes a physical exam and does not have liver, heart, or organ disease
  • Medication review to avoid interactions
  • Must not have current prescriptions for opioids
  • Must not be misusing cocaine, alcohol, or other substances
  • Show signs of opioid withdrawal
  • Must not have a previous addiction to methadone
  • Must not have a seizure disorder

Some groups of people are in enhanced danger if they do not take methadone to divert an OUD, like:

  • Pregnant women
  • People with a history of overdosing
  • Someone who has been taking methadone and stopped briefly

People meeting these criteria benefit more from immediate admittance to a methadone clinic.

What Are Methadone Treatment Plans?

There are no one-size-fits-all plans for methadone treatment. The clinical staff of a methadone clinic will create individualized treatment plans to address the needs of each person. Doctors use the information they receive to create methadone treatment plans, which will include the dosing plan.

Most doctors start with a low dose of methadone, monitor its effectiveness daily, and increase the dose when necessary. Dose titration typically occurs in the first two weeks but may continue into weeks three and four for some people.

Treatment plans also contain instructions for receiving counseling from a licensed mental health or substance abuse treatment professional. They may also include the following:

  • Regular drug testing
  • Assessment of methadone serum levels to aid in dose stabilization
  • Side effect monitoring to ensure safety
  • Communication and follow-up between doctors and referral sources
  • Attendance at community support groups
  • Discontinuance plan for those who wish to taper off
  • Take-home dosing plan for those who qualify

What Happens At A Methadone Clinic?

The first meeting at a methadone clinic will be with medical staff to conduct an assessment and establish a treatment plan.

Participants attend daily dosing sessions at a methadone clinic. When someone arrives for their dose, a nurse will administer it while observing and assessing them for compliance, health, and safety purposes. They receive enough methadone to last until the next day’s dose. Some days, they also participate in behavioral counseling onsite.

After six months of successful progress in the methadone treatment program, a person may be able to start taking their medications home in two-week intervals. Some visits to the methadone clinic may include consultations with the physician or nurse to discuss progress in the program.

Effectiveness Of Treatment

Methadone clinics are effective, and taking doses at a methadone clinic has many benefits, like diversion from misusing other substances.

Research shows people enrolled at methadone clinics have 33% fewer positive opioid drug tests and are four times more likely to remain in treatment. Treatment for OUDs reduces infectious disease transmission and overdoses while increasing employment rates among people in recovery.

Should I Consider Methadone Treatment?

Anyone struggling with an OUD should consider methadone treatment. OUD is diagnosable using the following criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DMS-5):

  • Taking more opioids and for more extended periods than intended
  • Trying to cut back or quit misusing opioids but cannot
  • Spending most of the time seeking, using, or recovering from opioid misuse
  • Having intense cravings and urges to misuse opioids
  • Being unable to fulfill duties at work, home, or school due to opioid misuse
  • Continuing to misuse opioids even though they cause relationship problems
  • Continuing to misuse opioids even though it worsens physical or psychological health
  • Avoiding activities at work, home, or socially to misuse opioids
  • Misusing opioids in risky situations
  • Developing a tolerance to opioids
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when going without opioids

Methadone treatment is appropriate for treating moderate and severe OUDs. Moderate means a person has four to five of the above symptoms. Severe means a person has six or more of the above symptoms.

A person participating in a methadone clinic treatment program must also have transportation to and from the clinic daily in the initial stages of the program. They must commit to attending counseling and engaging in community support, such as support groups, medical care, job training, and other resources to help them successfully recover.

Find Treatment For An Opioid Use Disorder

Help is available for anyone battling an opioid use disorder. To explore treatment options and rehab programs available to you, contact a treatment provider today, risk-free.