Is Methadone Abuse Changing?

Is Methadone Abuse Changing?

Since the 1970s, methadone use has increased steadily

Methadone is a prescription narcotic used to treat moderate to severe pain. The drug is also used as a maintenance drug for the treatment of addiction to other opioid narcotics. Methadone was first introduced during World War II, the early 1940’s, by German scientists who were urged to find a suitable replacement drug for morphine as it was in short supply. During testing, methadone was dispensed in high doses, causing adverse side effects such as drowsiness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, mood swings, headache and fatigue. These side effects are the same as when the drug is abused today.

When methadone entered the U.S. in 1947 it was manufactured by the pharmaceutical company Eli-Lilly under the brand name Dolophine. At this time, soldiers were returning home from the war addicted to heroin. Heroin was widely-available in Vietnam and it was also very inexpensive. Furthermore, soldiers were given heavy painkillers to treat both physical and psychological injuries encountered during their service. This created a major problem — soldiers returned home addicted to drugs in a society where drug use was quickly escalating. The 1960s and 1970s was a time of culture change where recreational drug use was highly-accepted. Methadone was not a common drug of abuse at this time, but with heroin and opiate addictions on the rise, the government decided to step-in and address the ongoing drug abuse epidemic. Enter methadone. Methadone treatment became the solution for combating the massive opiate addiction problem in the U.S.

By 1971, methadone was used as a maintenance drug for over 25,000 opiate addicts, and today is used by close to half a million individuals who are participating in methadone maintenance treatment programs. Unfortunately, methadone’s prevalence has landed it on the increasing list of opioid and other prescription narcotics that are becoming a problem in the U.S.

For years critics have advised that methadone should not be utilized for maintenance treatment as it frequently ends up trading one addiction for another. The drug is an opioid itself, and has the potential for addiction among other serious side effects, overdose and death. This is a major concern for opioid addicts who believe the drug is comparatively safe to use and therefore underestimate its harm and potential for addiction once they wean off of their original addiction. Methadone chemically provides the same effects as other opioids, even euphoric ones. So addicts must be cautious when following a maintenance drug treatment program. Methadone can curb symptoms of heroin withdrawal, so heroin addicts may seek out the drug whenever they do not have access to heroin. Both recreational heroin users and those using other narcotic painkillers may seek the high or pain relieving effects of methadone from time-to-time.

When taken in small doses or as directed, methadone can be beneficial for treating physical dependence and addiction; however, in large doses, the drug is very dangerous. During the 1980s through to1999, methadone abuse was significantly less prevalent, which can be linked to a decline in heroin abuse. However, heroin abuse is once again on the rise, and so is methadone abuse.

The fact that methadone is used as a maintenance drug has convinced individuals that it is much safer to take than other street drugs. Unfortunately, when methadone is abused it can be as equally toxic as other street drugs. The drug is relatively cheap compared to other opiates, including heroin, which is why so many individuals are developing addictions to this drug over other opiates.

To learn more about methadone addiction and treatment, you can call our toll-free, 24-hour helpline. We are ready to assist you with your questions, concerns and needed information, and if you are ready, help find and connect you with the treatment services that will work for you.