The Effects of Methadone

How to find an effective drug rehab for methadone dependence and addiction.


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What you need to know about finding Methadone Drug Rehab. Most people are introduced to methadone to help curb their withdrawal symptoms from opiates and find out too late that the withdrawals from methadone or more severe than they are from other opiates.  At the time that someone is going through the pangs of abstinence sickness, one doesn’t worry about the future pain of withdraws, but wants to do whatever is expedient to end the anxiety and pain associated with opiate withdrawals.

The United States has added yet another menacing substance to the ever-growing problem of drug abuse. Methadone, a medication typically used as replacement or maintenance for opiate-dependent patients, has become the substitute drug of choice for heroin and the popular painkiller turned street drug, OxyContin.

The Drug Abuse Warning Network reported that across the nation, Methadone-related incidents requiring emergency room treatment has increased 37 percent between 2000 and 2001. Florida saw an 80 percent increase in Methadone related deaths in the same period, and North Carolina’s fatalities increased eight times from 1997 to 2001. Virginia is witnessing similar trends, and data predicts that we will soon be seeing significantly more Methadone-related abuse than OxyContin.

Like Vicodin and Lortab, the frequency in which Methadone is being prescribed for pain is also increasing. Patients who were prescribed Methadone by their physicians to treat the pain of common ailments such as chronic back pain, sports-related injuries, or migraine headaches, are now seeking treatment for a dependency on a drug that was originally intended to help them.

For many years, Methadone was not considered an addictive threat because of the length of time (several hours) between taking it and experiencing the narcotic effect. Additionally, it has a sedative, rather than stimulant, effect. As an opiate-based painkiller, Methadone can serve as an adequate stand-in for heroin or OxyContin. This can be extremely dangerous due to the delayed and subtle effect of the “high”. People can overdose because they don’t anticipate or feel the actual damage being done until it is too late.

Methadone has become more widely available in recent years, due in part to the increased number of clinics using Methadone to treat heroin and OxyContin addictions. This makes it difficult to determine whether the drug is friend or foe. Ryan Curry, a 21 year-old Maine resident, began taking OxyContin to get high with his friends several years ago. Like many people who use OxyContin recreationally and for medical purposes, his body became dependent. Ryan decided he wanted to break his dependency so he sought treatment at a local Methadone clinic. Ryan was put on a low dose of Methadone to replace the OxyContin he had been abusing. As he became tolerant of the effects of the Methadone, doctors gradually increased his dose.

Ryan continued to take the Methadone supplied to him by the clinic for two years with his prescribed dose having more than quadrupled during that time.

“I couldn’t understand why they kept increasing my dose when I was supposed to be getting the drugs out of my system,” said Ryan. “My body would grow accustomed to the dose and I would need it increased just to make it through the day. It was not helping me.”

Methadone treatment facilities traditionally service the patient on an outpatient basis, administering medication with a drive-thru mentality. A patient’s vulnerability, compounded by a lack of sufficient medical supervision and psychological support, can sometimes result in the emergence of the new dependency. More so, a doctor may have difficulty judging the proper Methadone dose for a first-time user. Additionally, patients are escalated to Methadone doses much higher than the original opiate in order to allow for 24-hour dosing. The consequence of this is that Methadone patients are much more difficult to detox.

Experts argue that people who are prescribed Methadone for dependency on heroin or another opiate can lead normal lives and should be praised for giving up their addictions. However, these people may need to take Methadone forever, unable to function without it. Like any other dependency, quitting Methadone can cause withdrawal symptoms because the user is still dependent on opiates. Fundamentally, Methadone treatment neither addresses nor reverses the core issue of dependency, and studies of former heroin dependents have shown that withdrawal from heroin was far less excruciating and lengthy than withdrawal from Methadone.

Is substituting one form of dependency for another really the way to approach this life-threatening problem?

It is true that many treatment programs that treat opiate addiction use methadone or buprenorphine as a substitute for the other opiates that their patients were addicted to, but there are many more treatment programs that do not believe that this is a “cure” for opiate addiction.

In the 1970s, there were many medical professionals that resigned themselves to the idea that opiate addiction caused changes in the brain chemistry that required continued use of opiates to keep the patient from relapsing to their opiate of choice.  Methadone is a long-acting opiate that has been used to keep opiate addicts from craving heroin and other illicit opiate drugs.  Many of these professionals believe that it is the only type of “treatment” that will keep these addicted individuals from engaging in high-risk behaviors connected to intravenous heroin use.

These professionals also believed that some people are born with a brain chemistry problem that will lead them to using opiates illegally unless they are given methadone to block these cravings.

Substituting methadone for other opiate addiction has to be done on a daily basis.  Since methadone’s effects will last for 24 hours, methadone and LAAM are the only opiates that can be used as substitute drugs that can curb the cravings for other opiates for at least one day.  This type of “treatment” is call methadone maintenance treatment or MMT.  The average does of methadone used by patient that partake in methadone maintenance is 80-120 mgs/day.  Some patients that have built up a strong tolerance for opiates have taken has much as 500mgs/day.  It should be noted that someone who has not taken opiates could find that as little as 10 mgs. Of methadone could cause an overdose needing medical attention.  Methadone maintenance is considered cost effective since the average dose is about $13/day.

It is difficult to find the exact number of MMT clinics in America.  One website reported that there were 10,000 MMT clinics in the U.S., but this is an extreme exaggeration and since it takes federal and state licensing to open one of these clinics, they are not as prevalent as the methadone industry would like.
Colorado, for instance has two clinics in Denver and one in Colorado Springs.  There has always been strong opposition to this form of “treatment” since is runs counter to common sense that substituting one drug for another isn’t really treatment, but only a controlled addiction.

It has been found that a majority of those patients on MMT would like to be drug free, but for the lack of affordable drug-free treatment and continued relapses from this population of opiate addicts, methadone is usually taken as the least of all evils.  In addressing the issue of whether MMT works, you would have to define your parameters of success.  It has been documented that individuals on MMT have fewer relapses to other opiate that those that are untreated, but success would also have to look at the side effects of taking this drug on the long term.  The side effects are numerous and severe and no one would accept these as part of healthy living if they were given other alternatives.

If the treatment of addiction is to rehabilitate someone to a point where they can reclaim all of their native abilities and have a unobstructed opportunity to succeed in being successful in life, then MMT or any other substitute drug that keeps an addict addicted, but on another drug, needs to be considered a colossal failure.  In light of treatment programs that can reclaim an addict’s life and give them an opportunity to live an ethical and productive life, there really isn’t an excuse for calling methadone maintenance, ‘’treatment”.  It is only because of society’s apathy in not wanting to invest in better treatment that we have sentenced many opiate addicts to continued addiction and all of the problems associated with that impaired lifestyle.

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