What is Methadone?

Methadone, a synthetic, narcotic analgesic, has been used for decades to treat drug addiction, but in recent years, it has been prescribed to relieve pain. Often used by and associated with the treatment of heroin addicts, the drug shares many of the same effects and characteristics of morphine and acts in similar ways to it and other narcotic medications. However, with methadone the gradual and mild onset of action prevents the user from getting high and experiencing euphoric effects. Unfortunately, methadone is often used by addicts who wrongly think that since it is used in treatment, the drug is safer than heroin and so make it their drug of choice.

How Does Methadone Treatment Work?

Methadone tricks the brain into thinking it is still getting the problem opioid. The person properly taking the medication feels normal, not high, and withdrawal does not occur. Methadone also reduces drug cravings. Methadone, which is taken daily, comes as a pill, liquid and a wafer. Methadone to treat addiction is dispensed only at specially licensed treatment centers. It can be safely taken for as long as needed but must be stopped gradually to prevent withdrawal. Doses used in heroin treatment vary based on a person's body weight and opiate tolerance, but the correct dosage is measured and determined by a patient’s decline in opiate cravings. The risk that you will experience serious or life-threatening side effects of methadone is greatest when you first start taking methadone, when you switch from another narcotic medication to methadone and when your doctor increases your dose of methadone. Your doctor may start you on a low dose of methadone and gradually increase your dose. They will monitor you closely during this time. A number of studies have looked at the effectiveness of methadone programs, and a majority of them have found that methadone can reduce narcotics-related deaths, heroin users' involvement in a crime, the spread of AIDS and also help users gain control of their lives.

The Illicit Use of Methadone

Despite its use in the treatment community, there are addicts who use methadone as their primary drug of choice. Supplies of the drug for these users are illegal and are often diverted from legitimate methadone programs by enrolled methadone patients. With the surge in popularity for the substance, pharmacy burglaries have increased in some areas. Methadone is frequently encountered on the illicit market and has been associated with a growing number of overdose deaths. Illicit methadone is sometimes administered through injection (injection is not a valid route of administration in treatment) directly into the bloodstream. This form subjects users to increased risks of a variety of diseases, including HIV/AIDS. This synthetic opiate is taking a toll in Northern Kentucky and other parts of the country, as heroin addicts try to detox themselves, self-dosing with methadone and overdosing. Methadone is also used for a heroin fix.

Precautions While Taking Methadone Treatment

People on methadone should not use other opioid medications or illegal drugs. They should not drink alcohol or take sedatives, tranquilizers or other drugs that slow breathing. Taking any of these substances in large amounts along with methadone can lead to overdose or death. Though methadone is primarily used for treating narcotics addiction, users can still experience negative physical effects. Taking methadone improperly can slow breathing. Death could occur if the breathing becomes too weak. It can also increase the effects of alcohol. Although methadone is intended to prevent narcotics addiction and dependence along with associated withdrawal symptoms, there is still the possibility of becoming addicted. In fact methadone is an extremely physically addictive drug; however, addiction is less likely when under the supervision of a doctor. Tolerance to methadone can also occur with the frequent administration. Psychological and physical dependence can develop with the use of methadone. For instance, use of the drug continues a user's opioid dependency but frees them from the uncontrolled, compulsive and disruptive behavior associated with heroin addiction.
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