Although methadone is a great tool for addicts struggling to escape the clutches of heroin, the powerful narcotic brings with it the danger of a new addiction to the methadone itself. The drug is administered by prescription in federally licensed clinics throughout the U.S. The government regulates it as a controlled substance.
In clinics patients receive specified amounts of the legal methadone so that they can leave behind their dependence on heroin and other illegal opiates. Methadone mimics the effects of heroin and when taken according to medical instructions, can help people leave behind their addictions to dangerous street drugs. Clinics work with their patients to ease them off the methadone gradually in order to avoid the long painful withdrawal from it if it is stopped too abruptly since methadone withdrawal can be even more difficult than withdrawal from heroin.
Methadone’s second major use for pain management means that general laws regarding controlled substances apply. When methadone is prescribed as a substitute for heroin and a way to wean addicts off illegal drugs, however, additional laws and regulations cover its use. Stringent laws are not enough to stem the growing tide of methadone addiction.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports a rise in the number of prescriptions for methadone as a pain-killer. It can be a godsend for those suffering from pain that cannot otherwise be controlled. Since more of the powerful opiate has found its way into the legal American market, its availability as a street drug has also increased.
People who take methadone on their own put their lives at risk. Government statistics show that since the late 1990s when methadone became popular as a prescription pain reliever, overdose deaths from the powerful medicine have increased. Medical professionals eager to help their patients manage their pain wrote some 531,000 methadone prescriptions in 1998.
This number grew to approximately 4.1 million by 2006. It is not unusual for a prescription medicine to move into the realm of street drug. Popularity of prescription pain medicines makes it much more likely that people will start to deal them on the illegal market.
Heroin in the 19th Century is a prime example. Doctors brought it into use for pain treatment. Extremely effective in its original use, its popularity increased dramatically and many people found themselves addicted to the opioid.
In the early 20th Century, morphine was used throughout the world for the treatment of pain and wounds. Raw opium is its main ingredient. Knowing that a major war was imminent and that Germany could be cut off from its opium imports, the German government encouraged its scientists to develop alternatives.
The German chemical company, I. G. Farben, created methadone in its laboratories in 1937 as a synthetic opiate, originally named Amidon. After Germany lost the war, all German patents were erased, and the United States made the drug available in 1947 as Dolophine. It gradually became known as methadone.
Today’s medical practitioners must be extremely cautious in the dosage amounts they give their patients. Its properties are different from other opioid drugs and ample research findings are available to help explain their significance. Most of the overdoses, however, come from patients who combine methadone with other drugs, or abuse the drug and take more than prescribed.
Street users who take methadone for non-therapeutic reasons run great risk of overdose. If they combine methadone with alcohol, for example, the combination in the blood stream can cause coma and death. Both substances affect the central nervous system, and when they enter the same body, they can alter breathing, overall metabolism and heart rate.
Methadone may be sold illegally in a blend with other illicit drugs such as tranquilizers. Dealers may mix in useless fillers or even dangerous substances. The unknown purity of the street version can led to medical crisis.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports a huge increase in items related to methadone use that have been seized in drug raids and from individual users and dealers. In 2001 some 2,865 items were taken into forensic labs for analysis. By 2007 the number had grown to 10,361, an increase of 262 per cent.
The deaths attributed to methadone overdose have varying circumstances. Although the presence of methadone is detected by autopsy, there are sometimes other substances present that combine to kill the user. Methadone prescribed in clinics is closely monitored, but the powerful medicine bought and sold in the streets can wreak havoc for too many.
Understanding the nature of this powerhouse of a medicine is a first step toward successful recovery from addiction. Methadone remains a great tool for addicts wanting to leave behind their dependence and addiction on street drugs. If someone becomes addicted to methadone bought illegally, help is available at the same clinics that prescribe the drug.