Methadone

Methadone was originally developed by the Nazis during World War II. When the supply of opium was cut off, Nazi addicts like Hermann Goering (Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe and Hitler’s designated successor) wanted to avoid the possibility of withdrawal. He instructed the German drug companies to produce a wholly synthetic opiate that didn’t need to rely on the poppy. The chemists came up with a drug that not only worked, but also lasted a long time. As a result, Methadone has become the drug of choice for doctors who are trying to help users manage their opiate dependency. Heroin wears off after a couple of hours, thus requiring several hits each day. Methadone, on the other hand, lasts anywhere between 24 and 72 hours, depending on the dose that you take and on your individual metabolism.

Methadone use

Methadone is a (synthetic opiate) narcotic that when administered once a day, orally, in adequate doses, can usually suppress a heroin addict’s craving and withdrawal for 24 hours. Patients are as physically dependent on methadone as they were to heroin or other opiates, such as Oxycontin or Vicodin. Each time an addict uses heroin, there is a cycle of consisting of intoxication, initially, followed by a period of normal mental functioning which then yields to the discomfort of withdrawal and craving (flu-like symptoms with pain, anxiety and depression).

The cycle that repeats every 4 to 8 hours with heroin is eliminated by expert methadone maintenance treatment. This is possible because methadone is released more slowly into the system and lasts much longer than heroin and most other opiates. Short acting opiates, like heroin, hydrocodone and morphine perpetuate and/or create abnormal processes in the brain, which interfere with feeling normal and functioning normally. Taking methadone, instead, stops most aspects of this destructive process while normalizing important neurobiological functions. After stabilization on the proper dose, methadone does not produce the rush or “high” associated with heroin abuse.

Methadone addiction

In blind trials, users who were given both drugs orally were unable to distinguish between the effects heroin and methadone. An added problem for those using methadone to recover from heroin addiction is withdrawal. Withdrawal from heroin should be over after seven to ten days. Withdrawal from methadone though, can take up to a month or even longer. Ironically, methadone used to control narcotic addiction is frequently encountered on the illicit market and has been associated with a number of overdose deaths.

Tolerance and addiction to methadone is a dangerous threat, as withdrawal results from the cessation of use. Many former heroin users have claimed that the horrors of heroin withdrawal were far less painful and difficult than withdrawal from methadone. Many people go from being addicted to heroin to being addicted to methadone, and continue with this “treatment” for years, fearing the withdrawal that will occur when they stop. Methadone does not have to be the way of life for former heroin addicts.

Gradual cessation followed by a drug-free program of rehabilitation is the answer for many sufferers.

Common signs and side effects of methadone use

The most common side effects of methadone are:

  • drowsiness
  • light-headedness
  • weakness
  • euphoria
  • dry mouth
  • urinary retention
  • constipat
  • slow or troubled breathing

Less common side effects of methadone use

Some occasional side effects are:

  • allergic reactions
  • skin rash, hives, itching
  • headache, dizziness, impaired concentration, sensation of drunkenness, confusion, depression
  • blurred or double vision
  • facial flushing, sweating, heart palpitation
  • nausea and vomiting

Rare side effects of methadone use

The least common side effects of methadone use are:

  • anaphylactic reactions
  • hypotension causing weakness and fainting
  • disorientation
  • hallucinations
  • unstable gait
  • tremor, muscle twitching
  • myasthenia gravis

The risks include kidney failure and seizures.

Common symptoms of methadone overdose

The symptoms of a methadone overdose include:

1. Body as a whole

  • muscle spasticity

2. Respiratory

  • difficulty breathing
  • slow, shallow and laboured breathing
  • stopped breathing (sometimes fatal within 2-4 hours)

3. Eyes, ears, nose, and throat

  • pinpoint pupils
  • bluish skin
  • bluish fingernails and lips

4. Gastrointestinal

  • spasms of the stomach and/or intestinal tract
  • constipation

5. Heart and blood vessels

  • weak pulse
  • low blood pressure

6. Nervous system

  • drowsiness
  • disorientation
  • coma

Symptoms of overdose are

  • marked drowsiness
  • confusion
  • tremors
  • convulsions
  • stupor leading to coma
  • cold and clammy skin
  • hypotension
  • bradycardia

Methadone Detoxification

For detoxification treatment, methadone is administered under close supervision. During detoxification a patient may receive methadone when there are symptoms of withdrawal. Such symptoms are sneezing, yawning, tearing of eyes, runny nose, excessive perspiration, fever, dilated pupils, abdominal cramps, nausea, body aches, tremors and irritability. After several days of stabilizing a patient with methadone, the amount is gradually decreased. The rate at which it is decreased is dependent on the reaction of the individual. Keeping withdrawal symptoms at a tolerable level is the goal.

Methadone addiction treatment programs

Methadone is a highly addictive prescription drug. Recovery and rehabilitation from methadone addiction may require a treatment program ranging from certified addiction counselling to treatment at a residential alcohol and drug rehab centre, depending on the extent of the addiction and a number of other factors.

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