Methadone is most well known for being a drug used to treat heroin addiction. It is also used as an analgesic as it works on the same opioid pain receptors as morphine. It is particularly useful for helping people cope with chronic pain because its analgesic effects last longer than many other types of opioid. This drug is also used as an ingredient in cough syrups to supress violent coughing. Although it is widely used as a treatment for heroin addiction, there are some concerns about the effectiveness of this approach.
Methadone can also be called by other names including:
* Chocolate Chip Cookies
* Dolophine (brand name)
* Methadose (brand name)
Methadone can work effectively at relieving moderate to severe pain. It is usually prescribed after non-narcotic medications have failed to manage the pain. It is believed to be highly effective in treating neuropathic pain as the drug targets NMDA receptors. Methadone is also cheaper than other opiates and the effects last longer. This makes it attractive as a cost-effective pain management treatment.
The reason why methadone is used to treat opiate addictions is that it prevents withdrawals without producing the usual high associated with this type of recreational drug use. This means that the addict will avoid the physical cravings for heroin so long as the methadone level in their blood stream is sufficiently high enough. Another important effect of this drug is that in large doses it diminishes the euphoric effects of other opiates. This means that should the individual decide to take heroin while they are on methadone they will not experience the same euphoric effects. This should make it easier for them to escape their addiction lifestyle.
If the addict is able to move from using illicit opiates to using methadone, there can also be other improvements in their life. Their general health should be better and there should be less of a need for them to be involved in any type of criminality. They should be able to break away from their addicted peers and begin building a more productive life. It is possible to meet employment and social responsibilities more easily. If the addict has previously been injecting heroin, this will also reduce their risk of HIV infection by taking methadone orally instead.
When this drug is used for opiate addiction management, it is usually provided by daily attendance at a clinic. The goal of methadone maintenance is for the individual to be gradually tapered off the drug completely. In reality there are many addicts who will take it long term, with no real ambition to give it up.
Because of the risk of negative side-effects the addict usually starts off with a small dose which is then increased until they feel comfortable. The maximum dose is about 100 mgs. Over time the individual is encouraged to reduce their dose, usually in increments of 5mgs.
This drug can be responsible for a number of undesirable side-effects. These dangers include:
* Allergic reaction
* Difficulty breathing
* Difficulty passing urine
* Dizzy spells
* Irregular heart rate
* Limb swelling
* Loss of interest in sex
* Mood changes and agitation
* Reduced heart rate (bradycardia) or fast heart rate (tachycardia)
* Sudden death is a risk particularly for first time users
* Weight gain
There are a number of criticisms against using this drug as a means to treat addiction. One concern is the fact that so many people on methadone maintenance never manage to come off the drug. This means that they have simply replaced one addictive substance with another. In the US it costs up to $300 per week to provide this service for just one addict. This will often be covered by Medicaid. It is argued that such money would be better spent on abstinence based programs. In 2011, the British Prime Minister David Cameroon went so far as to claim that methadone is a government sanctioned form of opium.
There is also evidence to support the continued use of this of treatment for opiate addiction. It has been shown to reduce the risk of premature mortality and HIV infection. Those on a maintenance program are also less likely to be involved in crime.
Methadone is a highly addictive substance that people will use illegally. It does not create the same high as is available with drugs such heroin but it does create pleasant symptoms that people enjoy and may repeatedly seek out. Those who use this drug regularly will likely develop a tolerance to it which means they have to use increasing amounts to get the same effect. They may also develop a physical and psychological addiction. The drug can completely take over the life of the individual, insofar as it becomes the primary focus of the addict. Addiction also means unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when methadone is not available.
Even though methadone is used to treat opiate addiction it is still a highly addictive substance. The withdrawal symptoms for those stopping the drug can be quite unpleasant. Those who are on a maintenance program may find it almost impossible to reduce their dosage. They may decide that the best option is a clean break. Stopping the drug without help can be difficult. This is why many will choose to enter rehab or join a support group. Such treatment options not only help the individual escape the addiction but they also help people develop the tools they will need to build a successful life in recovery.
Methadone withdrawal symptoms occur when the individual stops the medication suddenly. This may be because the drug in unavailable or because they have decided to quit. The symptoms of withdrawal can be twice as severe as what is experienced with heroin withdrawal. These symptoms are generally not life threatening though. The typical symptoms include:
* Agitation and mental confusion
* Anxiety and panic attacks
* Body pains
* Body shakes
* Body sweats
* Breathing difficulties
* Depression and suicidal thoughts
* High pulse rate and high blood pressure
* Inability to sleep
* Intense itching
* Loss of appetite
* Nausea and vomiting