Methadone's use in addiction treatment is rooted in the drug's lengthy duration of action; it works and remains effective in opioid addicts for long periods of time, allowing for withdrawal symptoms to subside.
Contrary to popular perception, methadone is not only highly addictive itself, an addiction to methadone is extraordinarily harder to overcome than addictions to the likes of other, shorter-acting opioids.
This is because of the pharmacokinetics of different opioids.
The Pharmacokinetics of Methadone
The pharmacokinetics of a certain substance is defined as what our bodies do with the ingested substance—how it is absorbed, distributed, metabolized, and eliminated from the body.
Methadone is generally absorbed and can be detected in the blood after about 30 minutes. From there, however, as one takes the medication over time, it begins to build up in tissues because the drug's half-life can be as long as 35-60 hours, meaning that after that amount of time, the amount remaining in the body is cut in half. Most opioids like heroin have extremely short half-lives—just a couple of hours.
Detox for Methadone Addiction
Because the withdrawal symptoms that occur in the wake of quitting an addiction to methadone are so severe as to be life-threatening, one should never come off methadone without the close supervision of a qualified health care professional.
Addiction specialists have some options when it comes to detoxing methadone addicts. They can use the partial opioid agonist Suboxone, which requires a lot of careful supervision, or they can use a long-lasting benzodiazepine such as clonazepam.
Long-term use or abuse of methadone, and a high daily milligram intake, can result in withdrawal symptoms lasting an astonishingly long time—several weeks is not uncommon.