Methadone is a synthetic agent that relieves symptoms of withdrawal from heroin and other opioids by occupying the same brain receptor as those drugs. This therapy has been shown to have many benefits, including reductions in illicit drug use, needle-associated diseases, and crime. The treatment can also help a person work and participate in other normal social interactions.
In the United States, there are about 1,400 methadone maintenance programs serving over 254,000 patients, according to a 2006 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Adminstration. Research has established that most patients require a methadone dose of 60-120 mg/day, depending on their individual reponses, to achieve optimum therapeutic effects. Yet, a study by Drs. Harold Pollack and Thomas D’Aunno at the University of Chicago found that many methadone patients receive lesser doses.
In 1988, 1990, and then at 5-year intervals through 2005, the researchers surveyed nationally representative samples of 146 to 172 outpatient treatment facilities. Although the proportion of patients receiving doses below the recommended minimum decreased during this 17-year span, 34 percent of patients in 2005 still received methadone doses of less than 60 mg/day, while 17 percent received doses below 40 mg/day. The study also found that methadone programs strongly advocating an abstinence recovery goal were the most likely to provide doses of methadone below 60 mg/day.
Source: Pollack, H.A. and D’Aunno, T. Dosage patterns in methadone treatment: Results from a national survey, 1988-2005. Health Services Research 43 (6): 2143-2163, 2008. (as cited in NIDA Notes, Vol. 23, Number 3, 2010)