For decades, people have been using Methadone as a treatment for heroin addiction. However, is it really the best option? It has been shown that methadone is highly addictive, and the withdrawal process can be far worse.
So how can someone get addicted to something that is supposed to help them?
This same question can be posed for a plethora of other prescription medications, such as painkillers, benzodiazepines, stimulants, and even anti-depressants. In the case of methadone, many people who are addicted to heroin are simply looking for something to help them stop using heroin, and find that they are now trapped in an addiction to something else.
What is Methadone?
Methadone is a long-acting synthetic opioid painkiller. Prescribed by a doctor and given in daily doses, it has been used to wean people off of heroin and other addictive drugs. However, in comparison with other prescription opioids, methadone is relatively cheap and easy to acquire, so many people who suffer from chronic pain become heavily addicted to methadone.
Since it is a long-acting opioid and attaches to the same brain receptors of heroin and oxycontin, it generally blocks the desired side effects of other opiates and can reduce the painful withdrawal effects of them as well. This is why it is so widely used as a treatment alternative to opioids.
History of Methadone
Created during World War II as an alternative to morphine, methadone was used as a pain reliever for German Troops.
By the fifties, American doctors started using it as a treatment for opioid addiction.
After the Vietnam war and the heroin explosion in the United States, President Nixon saw the rising number of soldiers who came back with a heroin addiction and recognized that treatment centers were not providing “cures” from addiction.
Since its introduction into American society, and the lowered heroin use and overdose rates it creates, many people saw only the positive side of methadone.
However, some circles shouted out that methadone-based treatment programs were simply just substituting one drug for another, especially since methadone was highly addictive and was beginning to be used recreationally.
The Addictive Side
If you speak to anyone who has been a long-term heroin user, they most likely will be able to share about a memory or an anecdote about the trials and tribulations of the methadone clinic. When trying to stop using heroin, a large majority of people will try methadone.
Reports to the long lines of people standing and waiting for their drug, with some locations boasting lines wrapped around the door and around the corner, no one really speaks fondly about the methadone clinic. This means that, despite recommendations for methadone use to be very closely monitored by a prescribing doctor, the overflow of crowds ensures that methadone clinics are understaffed, and there is a scant success that doctors are able to monitor patients use as closely as they should be.
Methadone can also be extremely dangerous, and the withdrawal process is well known to be excruciating. Yet, people still find themselves trapped in a battle between using heroin or prescription painkillers, or using methadone.
- Methadone stores up in the body over time because it is long-acting
- It activates the same opioid receptors in the brain as oxycodone, heroin, and Percocet
- It lessens withdrawal effects of other opioid medications and heroin
- It is easy to overdose on methadone because it builds up in the system, one dose extra can lead to overdose
- Tolerance develops rapidly since it sits in the system
- Methadone can be bought and sold illegally, or taken from family members and friends, the same as any other opioid or drug
- Mixing methadone with other prescription drugs can lead to heart attacks or arrhythmia
Insurance and Harm Reduction
Despite the clinic lines, despite the increased potential for overdose, and despite users knowing how horrible the withdrawal process is, some people who experience chronic pain are somewhat stuck with only having the option of methadone. This is because lawmakers and insurance companies have valued methadone as a cheaper and more manageable alternative to opioid painkillers such as Vicodin and Percocet.
So many people with chronic pain have no other option than to turn to methadone.
Just like with any other medication-assisted therapy for the addiction of painkillers, the dangers are high, but the results are high as well. In a harm reduction context, while methadone has been shown to be addictive, it has also helped millions to stop using heroin.
However, is the decrease in heroin simply because they are addicted to something else? Are we focusing on the lesser of two evils?
The Withdrawal and Overdose Process
Since methadone is a synthetic opioid, it’s side effects largely resemble any other painkiller, such as:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Itchy skin
- Slow breathing
- Impaired Balance
Since methadone builds up in the blood, it eventually filters into the bones. This is the reason why many people say methadone is the worst drug to withdrawal from, and a heroin or opioid withdrawal is dwarfed in comparison to the pain from methadone withdrawal. People report excruciating leg pain and body aches.
Some of the most common side effects are:
- Intense restless limbs
- Sleep Disturbances (due to body aches)
- Extreme Nausea and Vomiting
- Twitching and Convulsions
- Depression and anxiety
- Excessive Perspiration
- Teary eyes and runny nose
- Flu-like symptoms
When it comes to using methadone over heroin or other prescription painkillers, it is best for the individual to decide for themselves. Anyone who is suffering from an opioid addiction understands that to come off, will mean pain. However, if an individual has an option to attend a substance abuse treatment center, their chances are much higher for a smoother, and shorter withdrawal process, rather than replacing one thing with another.
In Need of Detox?
It can be intimidating to know that addiction and alcoholism are always right around the corner. Sometimes getting that little push and having medical guidance can be what it takes. Relapse and active addiction/alcoholism are only as preventable as much as we value the sobriety we hold in our hands. If you or a loved one has been struggling with getting a firm grasp on sobriety and need detoxification, please call 858-293-1363 or visit restoredtx.wpengine.com. Our teams of specialists are waiting to help figure out what options are best for sending your life is a comfortable direction that you can proudly stand behind.