A powerful narcotic, Methadone is best known as a substitution therapy to help patients kick an addiction to heroin. Though it is considered to be effective as a maintenance program for addicts, it is not curative and has a high potential for misuse and abuse. Developed in Germany in 1937, the synthetic opioid is used also as an analgesic for pain and an antitussive for persistent coughing. It was introduced in the U.S. in 1947. Maintenance therapy came about in response to the drastic increase in heroin abuse following World War II. Like morphine and heroin, Methadone works on the opioid receptors in the brain and produces many of the same effects.
Methadone is long lasting and helps prevent and stop withdrawal symptoms. It also helps block the euphoric rush from other narcotics such as fentanyl, heroin and OxyContin. It is available in pill and liquid form as well as sublingual tablets that dissolve under the tongue. Methadone Hydrochloride tablets, marketed as Dolophine, are available in 5mg and 10 mg doses, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Though many in the drug treatment industry feel Methadone is the answer in treating addiction to heroin and other opiates, it has been controversial and politically polarizing. In 2006, the FDA issued a public health alert about the dangers of Methadone. It urged users to follow doctors’ advice and not take more than prescribed. And it called on doctors to be cautious when dolling out prescriptions. Some argue that Methadone clinics, where addicts go for treatment, just prolong the addiction. Others say they give addicts a chance to become productive members of society again. And some in the law enforcement community look at clinics from the perspective of the often-tragic overdoses by patients. Others argue it helps control the spread of infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis, spread through intravenous use.
Tolerance and dependence to Methadone can take hold quickly. While it may be ideal for maintenance, it is not the ideal treatment for users looking to become completely opiate free. Withdrawal symptoms with Methadone are considered less severe than with morphine or heroin but last longer, sometimes 2 weeks to 6 months.
Having to detox from Methadone can cause the following withdrawal symptoms:
Lightheadedness, sneezing, vomiting, delusions, paranoia, elevated blood pressure, suicidal ideation, nausea, diarrhea, fever, chills, aches and pain, tremors, depression, prolonged insomnia, delirium, hallucinations, agitation and anxiety.
A long list of possible methadone side effects:
- Tolerance, dependence, withdrawal
- Miotic pupils
- Cardiac arrhythmia
- Weight gain
- Stomach pain
- Sweating, itching, swelling
- Mood changes
- Blurred vision
Detoxing from opiates like heroin is hard. Substituting heroin with Methadone can help, but users will eventually have to be weaned from that. Medically supervised programs are available to help users detox quickly, in a safe, controlled environment.
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