Opiate addiction rates have reached epidemic proportions within the past decade and continue to rise with each passing year. News reports of famous celebrities entering rehab, returning to rehab and even meeting tragic ends speak to the devastating effects opiates can have on a person’s life.
Opiate addictions also carry an incredibly high potential for relapse making it all the more difficult for those in recovery to maintain abstinence for any length of time. For these reasons, researchers in the addictions’ field continue to search for new and improved opiate addiction medication therapies.
Methadone, the very first opiate addiction treatment medication, is specifically designed to address the challenges those in recovery face when coming off chronic opiate addictions. Though a handful of other medication treatments have since been developed, methadone remains the standard by which new medications are measured.
Someone wanting to know how methadone works may well ask the question, “does methadone block opiates” considering how it helps ease withdrawal and cravings effects. In a nutshell, the answer to the question, “does methadone block opiates” is no. However, understanding how opiates target certain cell receptor sites in the body can help shed light on why blocking opiates may not be enough to help a person avoid relapse.
Opiate Addiction Effects
According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, opiate drugs exert their greatest effects on the body’s central nervous system and on the brain’s ability to regulate bodily functions. Chemically speaking, opiates share certain similarities with endorphins, the body’s own pain-relieving chemicals. These similarities make it easy for opiates to disrupt and eventually take over brain and central nervous system functions.
Opiates work by activating endorphin-secreting cell sites throughout the body. Over time these cells come to rely on opiate effects to function normally. When asking does methadone block opiates, it helps to consider how the body would respond to a blocking effect under these conditions.
In effect, drugs that block opiates offer no support to damaged brain and central nervous system functions, whereas methadone rather helps people in recovery start to feel normal again. In this respect, the answer to “does methadone block opiates” is a resounding no.
Opiate Addiction Treatment Medications
Opiate addiction treatment medications typically work in two ways:
- By supporting damaged cell site functions
- By blocking the effects of opiates on target cell sites
Damage left behind by opiate abuse leave the brain in a state of rampant chemical imbalance, which accounts for the withdrawal and drug cravings effects people in recovery experience. These aftereffects can last for months or even years depending on the severity of the addiction. Considering how the brain desperately needs some form of physical support in this state, no would be the preferred answer to “does methadone block opiate effects” for someone considering methadone treatment.
Methadone itself falls under the opiate drug classification and consequently works in much the same way as addictive opiate drugs. However, methadone produces a controlled effect that supports damaged cell site functions rather than exhausting the brain’s endorphin supplies.
So, does methadone block opiates? No. Does methadone make it possible for brain functions to return to normal? Yes.
Methadone’s Mechanism of Action
With long-term drug use, the effects of opiates overwork cell site structures and in the process, deplete vital endorphin chemical supplies. This excess work causes cell sites to deteriorate weakening their ability to carry out necessary functions. These interactions account for why addicts have to keep taking larger dosage amounts in order to experience the drug’s “high” effects.
Once a person enters treatment, methadone picks up where opiate effects leave off in terms of enabling cell sites to produce needed endorphin supplies, according to the Alabama Department of Mental Health,. Methadone’s controlled effect doesn’t overwork cell site structures like addictive opiates do. Methadone also has a slow-release effect that supports cell functions on an ongoing basis as opposed to the passing “rush” that comes with addictive opiates.
Does methadone block opiates? In essence, methadone’s mechanism of action works to replace opiate effects and over time, weans addicts off these addictive drugs.
Antagonist-Based Treatment Approaches
While methadone does a good job at stabilizing brain chemical levels, blocking the effects of opiates on target cell sites may be necessary in cases where a person has a long history of opiate addiction. When this is the case, the question, “does methadone block opiates” is best answered by looking into other available medication alternatives.
Fortunately, opiate-blocking agents, also known as opioid antagonist do exist. Opioid antagonist drugs work by occupying cell receptors and preventing addictive opiates from binding to cell sites.
Opioid antagonists commonly used for treatment purposes include:
Does methadone block opiates in the presence of an opiate antagonist drug? No. In effect, an opiate antagonist can actually block methadone’s effects when administered at the same time.
Other Medication Treatment Approaches
While methadone does set the standard for opiate addiction treatment medications, it’s role as a replacement therapy can be problematic in cases of chronic opiate addiction. People coming off chronic addictions have likely been through multiple rounds of drug treatment and likewise experienced multiple relapse episodes.
Under these conditions, the question does methadone block opiates may actually point to yet another alternative: medications that both support cell site functions and block opiate effects, also known as opioid partial agonists. Opioid partial agonists work well at relieving drug cravings and withdrawal effects while at the same time blocking the effects of addictive opiates in the event of relapse.
Opioid partial agonists commonly used in treatment include:
Considering methadone’s intended mechanism of action, one may wonder: does methadone block opiates when other addictive opiates are present? The answer is a resounding no. Herein lies methadone’s Achilles’ heel.
When snorted or injected, methadone can actually become an addictive opiate since these methods of use override the drug’s slow-release mechanism delivering the full effects of the drug all at once. This liability accounts for the high rates of abuse associated with methadone.
Best-case scenario: Does methadone block opiate effects? Yes, but only as far as withdrawal and drug cravings aftereffects are concerned.