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Article Summary


Methadone is a prescription drug which is classified as a synthetic opioid, and because it is a narcotic drug much like heroin, it is available by prescription only. Methadone has been used for many years as a way to "treat" opiate addiction, although some physicians prescribe it to treat pain. When being used to treat opiate addiction to drugs such as heroin or prescription drugs which are abused such as OxyContin or Percocet, Methadone is used as part of so-called "maintenance therapy" at different programs and facilities around the country which are licensed to administer the drug in this manner. Because methadone can suppress opiate cravings for up to a full day or longer in some cases, the idea is that it will help keep heroin addicts and individuals who are addicted and dependent to other opiate drugs off the streets and out of the medicine cabinets, and in a more controlled setting where there is less risky activity occurring and the individual will not go through withdrawal and relapse.

The problem is that this must have never been a very well thought out solution, because methadone is often a far bigger problem when the individual decides they no longer wish to be on the drug. The withdrawal symptoms associated with methadone and significantly more intense and prolonged than just about any other opiate, so the individual is literally sentenced to a life of methadone maintenance. That is unless they seek out and receive effective help to somehow get off of the drug. So while it may appear to be a good solution to opiate addiction and an effective way to avoid the consequences this brings, it really isn't any kind of a workable solution at all. In fact, most individuals who go this route simply end up back on heroin or whatever their opiate of choice is in very short order.

How Methadone Works

How it works is individuals are typically prescribed a dose of methadone which is commensurate with the level of their opiate drug abuse. Meaning, their counselor at the methadone clinic will determine based off of their history of opiate use what dose of methadone it will take to stave off withdrawal symptoms and keep them in a comfortable state so that they aren't craving opiates. This is what is called "leveling off". However, much like any other opiate of abuse methadone users often have to continuously up their dose of methadone because of tolerance that develops after long-term use.

Some individuals who participate in methadone therapy, because they are addicts and are not being properly treated for their problem, will actually use their methadone to get high. High in much the same way they would get high on other opiates like heroin, because methadone affects the same pleasure centers in the brain as any other opiate. So in high enough doses, methadone maintenance patients may very well experience a high which is on par with a heroin or OxyContin high, defeating the whole purpose of such maintenance therapy. In fact, many patients will "stack" their dose of methadone, holding off on taking the drug until they have two or three doses in hand. Inducing a come down and slight withdrawal will make the high they experience when taking a couple of doses at once extremely similar to any other opiate high. A methadone high is categorized as feeling euphoric, untroubled, warm, and content, etc. just like heroin.

Methadone Abuse

Methadone is a long-acting drug, and there are dangers involved when abusing this drug as many methadone maintenance patients and non-patient who are abusing the drug do. Because it can take such a long time, several hours for methadone effects to reach their peak, users may take more and more of the drug wanting to experience a high and then unexpectedly overdose. And because each person's tolerance and level of dependence is different, the dose which may be lethal varies for everyone. One dose which might simply keep someone's opiate withdrawal symptoms at bay may be a lethal dose to someone who has a very low tolerance to opiates and methadone. This is very risky business, and one of the reasons methadone is such a dangerous option and not a very workable solution to treat opiate addiction at all.

If someone wants to stop methadone use after having used it for an extended period of time, they are unfortunately in for a rude awakening. There are a couple of reasons why. First of all, nearly all of the clinics which are licensed to administer methadone to patients are privately owned. Meaning, there is big money to be made and the profits made each year involving methadone are astonishing. So don't expect to be encouraged to taper down and quit your methadone maintenance therapy by your counselors at your methadone clinic. They want to keep you on board for as long as possible so they can make a quick buck. Secondly, typical heroin and other opiate withdrawal is often severe but over and done with within just a few days. This isn't the case for methadone at all, a withdrawal process which can last anywhere from 5 to 6 weeks in some cases. The symptoms when compared to heroin withdrawal have been described as 10 times worse.

Methadone Addiction Treatment

Some individuals choose to endure methadone maintenance for the duration of their lives, and have to deal with constant daily dosing which can definitely put a damper on living a healthy and care free lifestyle. You can't even go on vacation without figuring out how to get your daily methadone dose. This is no way to live, and individuals don't need to live this way when there is effective treatment available for opiate addiction; treatment which doesn't involve the use of other drugs to solve the problem. Although it treating opiate addiction is a challenge, there are many long-term residential and inpatient drug rehab programs which successfully help people struggling with it. It will take several weeks to do so with intensive therapy and counseling, but thousands of individuals have kicked their habit by choosing a true solution instead of a seemingly easy way out such as methadone.

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