Opioid Replacement Therapy: Helpful or Hurtful?

The topic of opioid replacement therapy is a touchy one. On the one hand, ever since Methadone was first synthesized it has “successfully” helped millions of addicts curb their addictive behavior centered on opiates such as heroin and painkillers. On the other, Methadone also causes thousands of deaths each year in the United States and ultimately keeps the user “strung out” on opioids. So does the drug provide any sort of real benefit? Or is it just ultimately delaying the inevitability of the need to get completely sober?

What is Opioid Replacement Therapy?

 

Opioid Replacement Therapy is the medical process where an illegal or even legal opioid such as Heroin, Vicodin or Oxycontin is replaced by a longer acting but ultimately less euphoric substitute. The idea is that by replacing the short-acting substance with something that will prevent the user from needing to go out and ‘score’ or engage in addictive behavior, they can ultimately taper off of a less harmful substance and get clean.

The big idea behind opioid replacement therapy is that they will not experience the symptoms of withdrawal or even have drug cravings. It provides a seemingly stable safety net to allow the patient to get their life under control and ultimately cease using opioids entirely.

The Dangerous Opioid Replacement Therapy

 

Though the idea of ORT is helpful in theory, many of the dangers outweigh any of the pros. Methadone is the most prolific of ORT drugs, with over 250,000 patients in clinics all over the United States. Here are some hard facts about the use of methadone:

  • The duration of methadone and other replacement drugs can be months or even years.
  • Only 2.5 out of every 100 patients are able to maintain abstinence from opioids for a year after discontinuing.
  • The risk of fatality climbs 2900% in the first six weeks after discontinuing maintenance.
  • 40% of patients become addicted to alcohol or benzodiazepine drugs after discontinuing use.
  • 30% of prescription painkiller deaths involve methadone, even though only 2% of painkiller prescriptions are for it.
  • 4,418 deaths were attributed directly to methadone in 2011.

How Drug Addicts Treat Opioid Replacement Therapy

 

I can only speak for myself when it comes to experience with ORT and Methadone treatment but what I can tell you is that it didn’t go the way that I planned. In my eyes, methadone treatment seemed to be a miracle drug. I would take it once a day for 21 days and be free and clear from the grips of opioid addiction. What started out as a sincere effort to attain sobriety turned into four years of being a slave to a clinic.

Methadone offered me a way to cheaply curb my need to use heroin everyday, yet allowed me to still use when I could afford it and still get high. It made practical “addict” sense to be able to do this! But in doing so, the prospect of ever detoxing off of methadone scared me. I felt like I needed it just to retain some semblance of being normal.

What are your thoughts on opioid replacement therapy? Does it sincerely help or ultimately delay and minimize the need to get help for addiction? Respond to this post with either you or your loved ones experience and how it affected you!

 

3 Comments
  • Lori C.
    Posted at 22:24h, 04 March Reply

    Really glad to see an article on this topic — thank you!

  • J
    Posted at 07:33h, 06 March Reply

    ORT, like all treatment has its pros/cons. ORT in conjunction with counseling can be helpful. There is a small portion of patients who simply cannot be weaned. The issue is many clinics do not provide counseling or it’s considered secondary. The medication should be used as a way to get one to counseling not as the treatment itself.

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