LAAM, or levo-alpha-acetyl-methadol, is a synthetic opioid used in the treatment of opioid addiction. Approved in 1993 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, LAAM is considered to be similar to methadone in its effects, which include analgesia, sedation and respiratory depression. LAAM is indicated for use in the treatment and maintenance of opioid dependence, most often when patients don’t benefit from other replacement therapies such as methadone and buprenorphine. Because of its long-acting formula, LAAM is taken 2-3 times per week, whereas methadone is a daily treatment. Doses are administered in approved medical facilities and take-home doses are prohibited under federal regulations. It works by creating a cross-tolerance to other opiates, blocking the euphoric effects and controlling drug cravings.
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Narcotic maintenance therapy, or substitution therapy, came about in the late 1960s to early 1970s in response to escalating use of heroin. Interest in expanding available programs was heightened when cases of HIV, AIDS, tuberculosis and hepatitis skyrocketed among intravenous drug users who shared needles. Many experts believe that providing maintenance therapies will help to curb problems associated with drug use, including crime, disease, unemployment, child neglect and homelessness.
LAAM can be highly addictive and is considered a Schedule II controlled substance in the U.S. The federal Drug Enforcement Agency classifies drugs based on their potential to be habit-forming and to lead to abuse. Tolerance and dependence can set in quickly with repeated use. This makes LAAM susceptible to illicit use and diversion. It is dangerous – potentially fatal- to mix LAAM with drugs like benzodiazepines, alcohol, sleeping pills, antidepressants or other opiates. Mixing pills can lead to sedation, drowsiness, unconsciousness and death. Side effects when used as prescribed could include body aches, flu-like symptoms, hot flashes, abdominal pain, constipation, dry mouth, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, abnormal dreams, anxiety, depression, headaches, insomnia, rash, sweating and blurred vision.
Opiate addiction is a chronic problem with a high rate of relapse. Using an opiate to treat an opiate addiction may work for some, but is not effective for everyone. Detoxing from narcotics can cause extreme anxiety and severe withdrawal symptoms if not approached properly. Withdrawal symptoms associated with opiate addiction include cramps, spasms, diarrhea, yawning, vomiting, flu-like symptoms, cold sweats, aches, agitation, anxiety, insomnia and nightmares. Medically-supervised detox programs are often recommended to help wean users from dangerous opiates. Rapid detox programs have also been gaining ground in recent years, treating opiate addiction quickly, while eliminating the painful withdrawal phase.
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