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How does methadone help treat opioid dependence and withdrawal symptoms?

Howard J. Shaffer, PhD
Addiction Medicine
Methadone (Diskets, Dolophine, Methadose) is the best-known and most frequently used medication for treating opioid dependence. Methadone binds to the same opioid brain receptors (a group of receptors in the central nervous system) to which heroin, morphine, and prescription (synthetic) opioids bind. Compared with opioids of abuse, methadone remains attached to the receptor and continues to exert its effects for much longer. A single dose of methadone can ease or prevent opioid withdrawal symptoms and alleviate cravings for 24 to 36 hours.

Doctors use methadone to ease withdrawal symptoms among patients who are detoxifying (clearing their system of drugs). Some people opt to continue methadone indefinitely as a way to help them remain abstinent, a practice known as methadone maintenance therapy.

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