There are a variety of methods and programs used in an effort to successfully help individuals achieve and maintain sobriety from drugs. One such method is the use of substitute medication, which can be highly controversial since this method does not help the individual achieve full sobriety so much as it diverts or substitutes an individual’s drug addiction from one to another drug. Methadone is one such substitute medication currently in wide use.
What is Methadone
According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, methadone is a man-made narcotic drug that is legally used to treat individuals suffering from addiction to narcotic drugs. Methadone can also be used to treat severe pain as in cases of cancer or terminal illnesses. Methadone has been a legal drug in the United States for nearly seventy years, but has recently joined the list of highly abused drugs, likely partly due to the fact that it itself is an addictive narcotic and is readily used in many drug rehabilitation treatment programs.
Like other narcotic drugs, methadone use can cause the individual to become physically tolerant of and dependent on the drug. However, methadone does not produce a euphoric rush or high like other narcotic drugs, and some individuals may take dangerously high doses of the drug in order to seek out the high they obtain from heroin or OxyContin. Methadone overdose can cause severe respiratory depression, lessening of heart rate or blood pressure, coma and even death. While being marketed by many medical professionals and rehabilitation treatment facilities as a valuable substitute medication for aiding the treatment of heroin addicts, methadone can also be difficult and dangerous to withdraw from. Methadone withdrawal symptoms include muscle tremors, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal cramps.
The Deadly Popularity of Methadone
Methadone has been considered safe and effective because individuals can sometimes be switched from heroin addiction to methadone use, easing their withdrawal symptoms and causing them to experience more gradual effects of drug withdrawal. However, one must not ignore the fact that methadone is still an addictive narcotic drug, and according to Nicholas Reuter at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, most methadone-related fatalities are drug addicts. A recent study by the National Center for Health Statistics indicated that the number of methadone-related deaths in 2004 were three thousand, eight hundred forty-nine, a nearly four hundred percent increase from methadone-related deaths in 1999. It was concluded at the time that methadone was the number two killer drug, second only to cocaine.
It is believed that because methadone is a legally available, less expensive and an accepted substitute medication for addictive painkillers like OxyContin and illicit narcotic drugs like heroin, it is easier for addicts to obtain large quantities of methadone. The Drug Enforcement Administration’s Denise Curry says, “It’s out there, it’s available, and it can be dangerous.” Pharmacies have even reported that methadone is one of the top three drugs most commonly stolen from their drug inventories.
The FDA has warned doctors about the prescription of methadone, because it only eases physical pain for a maximum of six hours, but remains in the body for fifty-nine hours. This can lead to patient abuse when individuals want more methadone before their initial dose has actually worn off. The FDA states, “Methadone may build up in the body to a toxic level if it is taken too often, if the amount taken is too high, or if it is taken with certain other medications.” Of course, doctors may prescribe the correct dosage amount at the correct intervals, but since they do not follow their patients home and verify that their instructions and recommendations are followed exactly, methadone abuse can and does happen.
The existence, prescription and use of methadone remains highly controversial as one is forced to consider whether the few lives it may manage to help outweigh the numerous lives it destroys.