Methadone is an opioid medication sometimes referred as a narcotic. The drug is used to reduce withdrawal symptoms for people undergoing detoxification for heroin and other narcotic drugs. Methadone does not produce “high” sensation which often associated with drug addiction.
Also, methadone is commonly used as a pain reliever. It serves as an important medication in the detoxification process. Methadone is only available in selected certified pharmacies.
Quick Facts about Methadone:
- In a study of the Drug Enforcement Administration:
- From the year 1999 to 2005, overdose deaths because of methadone increased around 460%
- In 2011, records shows that over 65,000 emergency room visits were related to methadone abuse.
- About 2.5 million people ages 12 years old and above abused methadone in some point in their life in 2012. The number grew from 2.1 million in just one year.
History of Methadone
Scientists working in I.G. Farbenindustrie AG at Farbwerke Hoechst in Germany developed methadone in 1937. During those times, Germany suffers from opium shortage problem and scientists have to think a way to solve it.
Bockmühl and Ehrhart filed for a patent for a synthetic drug similar to morphine on September 11, 1941. They called the drug Hoechst 10820 or Polamidon. During the WWII, methadone was widely used in Germany.
After the war, the US Department of Commerce Intelligence under the Technical Industrial Committer of the US Senate brought methadone in the US. Their investigation revealed that even though methadone contains addictive properties, it offers less sedation and respiratory distress than morphine. After the war, ten years later, Eli Lilly introduced the drug into the US.
Does Methadone Block Opiates?
Methadone binds itself to opiate receptor sites in the brain, occupying them so that other opiates cannot attach themselves. In turn, users won’t feel the “high” and resume their daily activities. Methadone can also limit cravings and prevent withdrawal symptoms including those opiate addicts experience during a relapse. Also, methadone can make the user feel more stable.
One of the legitimate medicine assisted treatments (MAT) used to help heroin and other opioid users overcome their addiction is Methadone maintenance therapy (MMT). It is believed to have three major benefits.
- MMT curbs cravings and urges to use opiates.
- MMT minimizes and eliminates withdrawal symptoms related to opiate use, abuse and dependence.
- MMT blocks the effects of opiates making it very difficult to get that euphoric high.
The half-life of Methadone is approximately 2-3 days. That means, approximately half of the medication stays in the system. This is the reason why methadone users can go several days without treatment before they start to feel methadone-related withdrawal symptoms.
However, there are sources that suggest otherwise.
For them, methadone is unable to block the effects of opiates.
Myaddiction.com states that a synthetic opiate like methadone will not be able to block the effects of other kinds of opiates. If taken with other opiates, methadone can have a very dangerous effect on the body and the person could even overdose on the substance.
Opium.org, also, was very clear on their stand that methadone does not block opiates. The source believes that blocking opiates is not enough to help an addicted user avoid relapse.
Several other users have commented on such sources saying that higher doses of methadone have the capacity to block the effects of opiates including Oxycodone.
MMT for the treatment of opiate addiction
If possible, unless otherwise stated by a licensed medical professional, the responsible thing to do would be to tell your physician that you are suffering from opiate addiction.
Hence, you should ask for a non-opioid medication for pain management and relief from withdrawal symptoms. Apparently blocking these effects can relapse into addiction and ruin your whole recovery.
While there is currently enough evidence to suggest that MMT is able to block the effects of opiates, we are also led to believe that there is sufficient evidence to the contrary. Using methadone for the treatment of opioid addiction should not be taken so lightly. In fact, before medical professionals prescribe this form of treatment, they usually weigh in a lot of things including the risk that the person may become addicted to methadone instead.
What causes Methadone addiction?
Like other opiates, methadone acts in the brain opioid receptors which control the reward system function. Even though methadone is used as a medical management treatment for heroin addiction, it also contains potential characteristics for addiction. The problem with patients is that from heroin addiction, they often develop methadone addiction.
What are the signs and symptoms of Methadone addiction?
Methadone which contains 22-hour half-life acts longer but is less potent than heroin. Because of these properties, experts use methadone to treat withdrawal symptoms.
The use of methadone for opioid addiction is called as Methadone Maintenance Therapy or MMT. The treatment only transpires in a certified methadone clinic. However, even if methadone is used for medical treatment of opiate addiction, it also contains properties that make it prone to abuse.
Signs of methadone addiction include:
- Using the drug more that the prescribed dosage
- Taking the drug outside of prescriptions. Clinics generally require the user to take methadone inside their facility, but some can buy it elsewhere like on the black market
- “Doctor shopping”, a behavior for getting legal prescription from different doctors
- Skipping schedule drug intake to have a ‘stockpile’ for high-dose administration later
- Ignoring responsibilities at work, school, and even relationships
- Physical Signs of Methadone addiction include:
- Constricted pupils
- Increased pain
- Slowed breathing
Short-Term Effects of Methadone
The effects of methadone are somewhat similar to heroin but longer-lasting and less intense. It usually lasts up to 24 hours; heroin lasting effects reach up to 2-3 hours. Methadone also slows down a person’s reaction, which makes movements more exaggerated or lethargic. This makes the user prone to accidents since they cannot respond quickly enough.
- Feelings of euphoria
- Pinpoint pupils
- Respiratory distress
Long Term Effects of Methadone Abuse
Health complications from methadone abuse vary because of the genetic make-up of each individual, length of time which they used the substance even the duration of the intake. Prolonged methadone abuse can result in devastating effects on the overall well-being of the user. Some of the long-term effects include:
- Impaired judgment
- Heart complications
- Sexual dysfunction
- Respiratory problems
Blood borne disease like HIV, Hepatitis C (related with multiple injection uses or in multiple doses as well as sharing of needles.)
Furthermore, long-term heavy use of the drug will build tolerance in the body. Users must take higher doses of methadone to get the same effect. This behavior often leads to overdose.
Overdose symptoms include:
- Breathing problems/shallow, slow breathing
- Hypotension or low blood pressure
- Twitching muscles
- Cyanosis or bluish color of fingernails and lips
What are the treatments available for Methadone addiction?
Fortunately, there is still hope for methadone addiction. Getting a proper assessment is a very crucial step to take. Usually, a treatment program includes detox, then a residential rehabilitation or an outpatient treatment.
To get rid of all traces of opioid use such as methadone, a detoxification process is a must. In this process, users will undergo medication which will eventually eliminate the drug from the body. However, supervision from medical practitioners for methadone detox is highly recommended. Besides administering the medication, they will ensure the total safety and comfort of the user.
Withdrawal symptoms usually occur within 24 hours from the last drug intake. For some users, it can take longer depending on how they used the drug. During the first week until 10 days, users will experience the worst symptoms accompanied with flu-like symptoms. Also, interconnected psychological symptoms will also surface like paranoia and depression. However, the symptoms will eventually fade within several weeks.
The usual withdrawal symptoms include:
- Cravings for the drug
- Muscle aches and pains
- Nausea or vomiting
- Rapid heartbeat
- Stomach cramps
A therapist can guide the user in getting back their essential skills to get back to their daily lives. Some may include group therapy sessions or other physical activities to regain their vitality. They can also evaluate and treat the main cause for methadone addiction. This will ensure the user to recover from their addiction.
|Methadone Withdrawal Timeline *depends on factors like weight and tolerance
|During the first 24 hours
|During the first 24 hours from the last drug intake, users can experience the physical symptoms like chills, fever, erratic heartbeat, and muscle pains.
|2 to 10 days
|For the following days, users can feel extreme methadone cravings. The psychological symptoms may also begin to start like insomnia, anxiety, and paranoia. Aside from these, they will also experience flu-like symptoms but will improve after a week or so.
|11 to 21 days
|About half way through the detox process, symptoms should fade. However, some users especially those who took the drug heavily in long term may still feel intense cravings for methadone. Depression may start to kick in as well, and users will find it difficult to get motivated.
|22 days and beyond
|All of the symptoms should disappear at this time. However, mild traces of the symptoms may remain. Users can still experience depression for several weeks.
What is a Methadone Clinic?
A methadone clinic is a drug treatment facility that mainly works with opioid-addicted individuals. They specialize in programs that make use of methadone as a core part of the treatment process. Keep in mind that methadone treatment is just one of the many ways of treating addiction.
Different facilities may have different approaches, so if you are interested in getting sober again, you should find out what programs the rehab facility offers. A methadone clinic, for example, is only suitable for people addicted to narcotics.
If you are addicted to an opiate or an opioid, a methadone clinic can provide ongoing medication maintenance to help you quit the drug.
What Happens During the Assessment?
The first step in getting methadone maintenance is an assessment. Anyone can receive an assessment for methadone maintenance in this type of clinic. Some people might get intimidated, but rest assured, methadone clinics foster a welcoming environment for those seeking medical assistance. Their goal is to help you recover.
During the assessment, you will have to provide some necessary details about yourself like your age, sex, date of birth, medical and psychiatric history, past and current drug use, and history of withdrawal symptoms. You also have to provide information about past or present thoughts of suicide, or suicide attempts.
The staff members have to know these details to ensure your safety during the treatment. Everyone goes through addiction differently, so expect addiction treatment to be personalized. A proper treatment plan will be created based on your needs.
It is important that you provide honest answers and tell them about other drugs you are using if any. If not, you could be placing yourself at risk of accidental overdose. Tell them if you are drinking alcohol, taking any prescription medications, or using other drugs recreationally.
How Does Treatment Work?
Methadone is an opioid that attaches to the same receptors that other opioids bind to. This means that it will lessen your risk of abusing your drug of choice because the brain no longer craves it. It feels “satisfied” with the presence of opioids. However, methadone is different because it does not create the usual euphoric sensation. It will not get you high.
Methadone is used in treatment because it allows you to slowly get off of the drug. It makes you less dependent on opioids. It is used in the process of medical detox which involves weaning the patient off of the drug while taking care of their withdrawal symptoms.
A high-risk patient may have to stay in the facility for the duration of the treatment. This is called inpatient treatment, and it allows the medical staff to keep an eye on you and your progress. It gives you access to the medical attention and cares you need during the treatment.
Eventually, the patient transitions to outpatient treatment, which means they need to return to the clinic every day to receive the supervised daily dosage.
A low-risk patient may be set up with outpatient care right away. It involves minimal screening but regular visits to the hospital to make sure that progress is still being made.
If you or someone you care about is going through opioid addiction, look for a methadone clinic near you and find out if it’s suitable for them.
The Dangers of Methadone
Methadone is known to reduce symptoms of withdrawal in individuals who are dealing with narcotic addiction. It is important to mention that this drug is safe unless taken improperly. It takes a significantly large amount of methadone to get high. It also greatly reduces the risk of relapse. This is why methadone treatment is a very popular technique used in drug rehab facilities.
Still, it comes with its own dangers. The risk of experiencing adverse health effects increases if a person abuses their methadone prescription.
Common side effects include drowsiness, dry mouth, lightheadedness, sexual impotence, and gastrointestinal distress. But these effects are rather mild and may be encountered occasionally by those who are taking the drug properly.
If a person abuses the drug, the risk of serious side effects increases. They may experience tremors, fainting, respiratory depression, irregular heartbeat, seizures, and anaphylactic reactions. And again, there’s also that chance of overdosing on methadone, which can be fatal.
The adverse effects mentioned above are merely the physical side effects caused by methadone abuse. However, there are also psychological side effects like insomnia, depression, hallucinations, anxiety, paranoia, delusions, and impaired concentration.
If someone you care about is suddenly showing changes in behavior, it might be due to their methadone intake. There’s a chance they might be abusing their methadone prescription. Some people even get suicidal thoughts due to methadone abuse.
Methadone addiction may be less common compared to other opioids, but this is a very real issue that can cause long-term problems. Addiction to this substance can have an incredibly dangerous impact on a person. Long-term abuse of this drug can lead to tolerance and physical dependence. Dependence would involve becoming unable to function properly without taking the drug. The person will go into withdrawal if they don’t take methadone.
At this point, proper addiction treatment becomes essential to their recovery. They need a comprehensive treatment plan so that they could receive the medical attention they need. They may go through behavioral therapy to address the emotional and psychological effects of addiction.
Techniques like group therapy and counseling could help tackle the root of the addictive behavior. This is just as important as the medical detox process, where the drug user is slowly weaned off of methadone.
It’s worth remembering that methadone is a safe and helpful drug under most circumstances. But all opioids can be dangerous once abused. So if you know someone who is taking methadone to deal with a different addiction, make sure you help them stick with their prescription.
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