Methadone is a synthetic opioid that is most commonly used for opioid addicts who are trying to abstain from their narcotic drug use. The individuals who use methadone for this purpose are typically addicted to heroin and other narcotic painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, Morphine, and Dilaudid (known as methadone maintenance). Also prescribed for pain, methadone should only be taken by those who have an established opioid tolerance, as a small dose of 30mg of this drug can be fatal for an individual who is opioid-naive. Methadone has a slow onset of effects and an extended length of action, up to 72 hours. This is unique, as most other opioids have a fast onset and may have lengths of action up to 8 hours, but not typically any longer. Methadone is a powerful opioid that binds to the opioid receptors in the brain, and when taken in higher quantities by addicts, can block the euphoric effects of heroin and other opioid painkillers. It is for this reason, methadone has long been a preferred drug to assist heroin addicts in abstaining from further heroin use.
Methadone Abuse and Addiction
Despite the use of methadone to assist heroin addicts in their efforts to abstain from further abuse, the drug is still an opiate, and is frequently abused. Although methadone addiction may be a more gradual and lengthier process, when it happens, the withdrawal from it can be just as lengthy. Typically, methadone maintenance requires heroin addicts to visit a clinic where they are observed while they ingest their daily dose of the drug. Often, after several months of compliance with the program, addicts may be given the opportunity to receive a 30-day supply of methadone to take home with them, eliminating the need to travel to a clinic on a daily basis. The reason methadone distribution is watched so carefully is because the drug is very powerful, and despite a slow onset and release of medicine over a few days, methadone can be deadly when it is abused. The ways in which methadone is abused are very similar to the methods used by addicts to abuse OxyContin, and they include:
- Crushing and snorting methadone to get the full opioid contents at once
- Dissolving the powder to be injected intravenously
When these types of tactics are employed by addicts, they experience the full power of methadone in one hit, and according to Center for Disease Control(CDC), nearly 1/3 of the 15,500 yearly overdose deaths from prescription painkillers involve methadone.
One of the qualities of methadone that makes it so dangerous is that it builds up in the system of a user, so if an individual takes methadone 3 or more times in a single day, he or she is at an increased risk of respiratory failure, as the methadone concentration builds.
The implications of this are far reaching, as the concentration levels of methadone increase with each hour after taking it. Any other substances present in a user’s body may interact with the rising levels of methadone, and there can be no estimate of when methadone concentration will reach dangerous levels if it is not taken exactly as prescribed. As an example, taking methadone and other depressant drugs, such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, and/or other opioids can be especially fatal because all of these drugs cause slow breathing, and when any combination of multiple depressant drugs is present, the risks for overdose and death are drastically increased. Additionally, some people may take methadone recreationally expecting an immediate high, then take more and more trying to achieve a euphoric state, only to have a fatal amount of the drug several hours later and suffer severe health consequences, or death.
Effects of Methadone
Methadone is different from most other opioids in its long action time and slow onset, but has many of the same characteristic effects, such as:
- Shallow breathing
- Feeling weak
- Dry mouth
- Decreased sex drive
- Loss of appetite
When an individual uses methadone, he or she may not experience the same euphoria as that which is associated with heroin or many other opioid painkillers. This is because the effects of methadone are not felt immediately, and gradually build as the drug is slowly released into the bloodstream over several hours. When methadone is misused, and snorted or injected, its chemical makeup continues to deny a user the rush of euphoria experienced with heroin and other opioids. This lack of euphoria, however, is a double edged sword for one key reason: Addicts are always seeking the euphoria associated with their drug of choice, so when they do not get it from methadone, this does not necessarily deter an addict from using other drugs to achieve a high. The problem with this is the gradual build-up of methadone, which often results in deadly interactions with any other drug used by an individual to get high.
Methadone Detox and Withdrawal
While methadone has been praised as a life-saving drug for those addicted to heroin and other opioids, it can create an addictive cycle of its own. Although methadone does not produce the euphoric high addicts crave, it is still an opioid and mood-altering substance. As such, it produces a psychological and physical dependence in users. Additionally, since methadone is so long-acting, it stays in the bloodstream of a user much longer than any other opioid, so the withdrawal from it takes much longer. Most often, methadone addicts are tapered from the drug slowly, over time, and this process can take several months as withdrawal symptoms fade, but can continue to linger for months after detoxification has been completed. Some of the withdrawal symptoms from methadone can include:
- Intense cravings
- Muscle pain, stiffness and spasms
- Nausea and vomiting
- High fever
- Abdominal pain
Depending on the amount of methadone taken, and the length of time an individual has been taking it, the length of the detox process can vary greatly. When individuals try to detox from methadone without the assistance of a detox facility and medical staff, the longer duration of lower-grade symptoms can be unbearable. This effort typically results in the individual going back to drug use. Unfortunately, because methadone takes longer for its effects to be felt, it is rarely the drug used by those who cannot withstand the prolonged withdrawal symptoms, and they will more likely seek drugs with immediate effects like Heroin, OxyContin, Dilaudid, and other opioid painkillers.
The most beneficial aspect of getting off methadone in a detox facility is the fact that there is no access to drugs within the building, and medical staff is available to administer other medications to ease withdrawal symptoms and facilitate sleep during the process. Also, the tapering off of methadone can be adjusted to the individual and his or her preferences and needs, so it may be faster for some and more gradual for others, which is determined on an individual basis.
Methadone Addiction Treatment
Whether taking methadone for maintenance, pain, or recreationally, there is help available to get off of the drug and remain sober from all drugs of addiction in the future. The bottom line is that no one wants to be a slave to any drug and feel that he or she is not able to stop using it. Methadone may be a temporary solution for some who have been addicted to heroin and other opioids, but it is not a solution for life-long sobriety. It is only a replacement drug that arguably does less damage. The only way to overcome addiction and truly be sober is to abstain from all drugs of addiction, and this starts with detox. After detox has been completed, it is recommended that all addicts attend some form of addiction treatment in order to understand and ease a transition to a drug-free life. This generally includes changing habits, places, people, and things that may have been associated with addiction.
If you, or someone you love are addicted to methadone, and need assistance to get sober, please call and speak with a trained counselor who will listen to your situation and concerns moving forward. We are dedicated to helping each individual find the most effective level of care and the addiction treatment program that will work for that individual. Not all treatment programs are the same, and what works for one individual may not work for the next. Please call us now and let us help you ensure that the program you choose is tailored to the needs, preferences, and spiritual beliefs that will strengthen your foundation for a vivacious, healthy, and happy life, free from addiction to methadone, or any other addictive drug.