There is not one treatment that works for all people addicted to opiates (like heroin or oxycodone). Some people with addiction are able to stay off opiates when they detoxify and then begin a treatment regimen, such as Intensive Outpatient counseling, followed by regular professional counseling with peer support through a program like Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Success with this approach is more likely when there is stability in other parts of the person’s life, and if the person has true support from family, friends, and others in the community.
For some individuals the approach above simply does not work. One program at Glenwood Life Counseling Center uses Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) to help individuals with opiate addiction. Two medicines are commonly used for this purpose: methadone and buprenorphine. The program at Glenwood uses methadone.
To understand why some people need medication, it is important to recognize that addiction is not just a matter of a person making bad choices. Drugs of addiction (and behaviors of addiction, like gambling) actually “hijack” parts of the brain that are set up to help a person survive, therefore, the brain begins to act as if the drug is necessary to survive. This is why the drive to relapse can be so strong, similar to the drive of a starving person to get food.
But the situation is not hopeless. Each of us has a higher brain. Each of us has intelligence, and we can use that intelligence to design a “safe place”- a place where we can heal. It is not perfect, but the longer we heal, the safer our sobriety can be.
Methadone can help create the stability that allows a person to change the other aspects of his or her life. The key to understanding methadone is this: A person taking the proper dose of methadone does not get sick when he/she does not take heroin, but does get “high” if he/she uses heroin. Methadone stabilizes the brain so that the person can get on with the rest of their life. A person with opiate addiction who takes the proper dose of methadone can live a normal life.
The person in treatment with methadone can use this gained stability to create a larger "safe place", so that one day he/she may be able to wean off the methadone and move on in life without the need for medication. Sometimes that is possible. Sometimes it is not. If a person needs to stay on methadone for a very long time, it is not a bad thing. No more so than it is a bad thing to stay on blood pressure medicine for many years.