Methadone, also known as dolophine, has been used in the United States as a treatment for opiate drug addiction for more than 30 years, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Because its effects last as long as 24 hours, methadone was and is an effective harm reduction tool, allowing those addicted to street drugs to avoid contracting transmittable diseases and overdosing due to the variable purity of heroin bought on the street. Study after study has demonstrated the effectiveness of methadone in helping people to live longer, healthier lives. A study in the journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica put it best by writing, “It is concluded that MT [methadone maintenance treatment] exerts a major improvement in the survival of heroin addicts.” It’s clear that, for some people, methadone can be a lifesaving treatment; however, there are some people who may not benefit from methadone. These people might develop secondary addictions due to the use of the drug, and they might benefit from help from The Orchid.
Methadone was discovered in the 1930s in Germany by scientists looking for a painkilling drug that wasn’t as addictive as morphine. In short, these scientists wanted to help those struggling with severe levels of pain, but they didn’t want to leave these people with debilitating cases of addiction when their pain was under control. It’s difficult to accomplish this task, and as this article will make clear, methadone didn’t turn out to be an optimal drug in this regard.
During World War II, methadone research was expanded as scientists began synthesizing the drug due to short supplies of morphine and other painkillers. Once again, methadone was seen as an effective drug to use when people were in severe pain, but questions about efficiency were replaced with questions of cost. Since methadone was less expensive, it was considered the drug of choice, and questions about addiction fell by the wayside for the moment. By the end of the war, according to the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR), the United States obtained the rights to the drug and renamed it “methadone.” This was considered a spoil of the victors of the war, and the drug went into wide release in the United States.
In the beginning, methadone was used as a pain reliever, and it was quite effective in this regard. The drug seemed to numb down pain and provide people with a brief sense of drowsiness that could help their bodies to knit together after catastrophic injuries. Instead of staying awake, writhing in pain, people could sleep and feel at peace, even while their bodies were healing. According to CESAR, the drug was used in this capacity for many years, until researchers discovered that it could also be useful in treating addictions to narcotics.
Much of this changed due to the work of Dr. Vincent P. Dole. Heroin addiction was a burgeoning epidemic in this country during the 1950s, and to understand better how to deal with it, the New York City Health Research Council funded Dr. Dole with a research grant to study methadone as a possible treatment. According to an article in the New York Times, Dr. Dole and his wife conducted multiple studies of methadone use on people who had been addicted to heroin for at least 14 years. He and his research team discovered that 100 milligrams of methadone blocked the effect of 200 milligrams of heroin, and the effects lasted as long as 24 hours. This was an amazing discovery, and it changed the way methadone was used in this country for good. Now the drug moved from a treatment for pain to a treatment for addiction.
Expansion in the United States
By the early 1970s, it is estimated that as many as 25,000 patients across the country were taking methadone to treat opiate drug addiction.
- Relieve cravings for drugs
- Suppress feelings of opiate withdrawal
- Block the effects of any heroin the addict might take
- Encourage the person to stop using street drugs altogether
While these results might be amazing, and many might see these results as both useful and important, many people who didn’t understand methadone treatment for addiction became suspicious of the practice. As an article in the Journal of Public Health Policy puts it, people became disillusioned with the idea of methadone, as it wasn’t a “cure” for addiction. People who took methadone for addiction often stayed on the drug for the rest of their lives, and some began to wonder if they were simply trading one drug addiction for another. As the public became aware of methadone treatment, questions about the efficacy of substituting one addictive drug for another came to the fore.
In response to this, federal regulations concerning the drug (such as who could prescribe it, under what context and in which settings) were instituted in 1973. These regulations were strict and applied to methadone dispersal whether it was prescribed for pain management or opiate addiction. A few years later, these regulations were lifted when pain was the reason for the prescription, but even today these rules are still in place and heavily enforced when methadone is prescribed to treat drug addiction. Interestingly, over time, the drug would swing back in the other direction, and it would be considered a drug for pain once more.
Understanding the Concern
The problem with methadone for drug addiction treatment? Helping people break their addiction to methadone is no simple feat. In fact, addiction to methadone might be as dangerous to the person’s health as heroin, albeit for different reasons, and the attempt to quit the drug “cold turkey” can bring on debilitating withdrawal symptoms just like other opiates. Withdrawal symptoms include:
- Jerking muscles
- Teary eyes
These symptoms may not threaten life, but they can be incredibly uncomfortable and they can make it difficult for people to feel comfortable about their lives and well enough to stay involved in treatment programs. Those who try to stop taking methadone, and who feel these symptoms as a result, might simply start taking the drug again right away.
In addition, methadone has been associated with a remarkable number of overdose deaths. The drug is a powerful sedative that can slow the heart as well as the breathing rate, and people who take large amounts of the drug might simply fall asleep and never wake up again. No matter the benefits of methadone treatment, the fact remains that methadone overdose deaths are a reality and their number in the United States rises every year. According to a study in the journal Epidemiology and Community Health, death rates involving methadone rose 80 percent per 3-year period, in the years between 1974 and 1992. It’s clear that people can die from taking this drug, even if they’re taking the drug in order to keep death from occurring.
A New Market
While methadone has been used for many years to treat addiction, the medication has been rediscovered as an effective treatment for pain. For example, an article in the Journal of Palliative Medicine suggests that methadone could be effective for people with cancer pain as it is readily absorbed via oral and rectal routes, and it can be provided in once-per-day dosing schedules. For people in severe pain, the drug could be an effective option. However, some people who begin taking methadone for chronic pain could slowly slip into addiction, taking higher doses of the drug than recommended or taking doses much too close together, hoping to load up on the drug and provide themselves with a sense of euphoria.
There may be other factors behind the development of addiction in people using methadone for chronic pain. The NIDA reports that some doctors are giving the drug for their patients, despite the fact that they have little experience with providing the drug. The medication is inexpensive compared to other opiates and for this reason it is becoming the prescription of choice for pain management. However, doctors who have not prescribed the drug extensively may not understand how to coach their patients to take the drug properly, and they may not monitor their patients well to ensure that abuse is not taking place.
Treatment at The Orchid
The Orchid Recovery Center for Women is one of the most progressive, all-female addiction treatment programs in the nation. Our center is founded on the powerful doctrine of communal support among women, and we go out of our way to build and develop trust among our members. The result is one of the most powerful and essential exercises in relational growth anywhere in the country – one whose powerful treatment program continues to garner national renown.
At Orchid Recovery Center, we believe that methadone is an excellent treatment for drug addiction and that its benefits are undeniable when it comes to harm reduction. However, on the road to an addiction-free life, methadone treatment is merely the first stop, not the destination. We can help you take the next step toward abstinence when you decide to trade in your methadone addiction for a drug-free life.
Work begins with a thorough assessment that ensures that people in our care will be able to undergo a methadone withdrawal treatment program. Some people simply may not be able to go through methadone withdrawal, because doing so will lead them right back into heroin use and abuse, and this can lead them to pick up blood-borne viruses such as HIV/AIDS. Moving back to street drugs might also mean moving back into drugs that vary in purity from one batch to the next, and this could lead to overdose. Those people who cannot wean from methadone without going back to street drugs might need to stay on methadone for life, or wean to another addiction medication such as buprenorphine, and then move on to sobriety. This is something we are sure to discuss, in detail, before we begin the methadone addiction treatment process. We want to ensure that all in our care make the transition in a healthy, informed and safe way.
At The Orchid, we treat all women who are addicted to methadone, whether their addictions began with prescriptions to treat chronic pain or whether their addictions began due to a treatment for heroin addiction. Our program uses cutting-edge therapy techniques, combined with group therapy and relational therapy that allows women to connect with one another and learn from one another in a supportive environment. It can be a revolutionary way in which women can heal.
If you or someone you love is addicted to methadone and needs treatment, contact us today.