Methadone – Replacing One Addiction With Another?

by Hannah Ramirez
(San Antonio, Texas, USA)

Methadone is another drug from the opiate family that is used as an opiate replacement for heroin addicts. German scientists originally synthesized it during World War II due to a shortage of morphine. Compared to heroin and other opiates, methadone is absorbed and metabolized much slower and has much longer-acting effects.

For this reason, methadone has been a viable candidate for opiate replacement treatment. Heroin addicts avoid the rapid cycle of intoxication and withdrawal that is normally associated with heroin abuse.

Also, methadone attaches to the opiate receptors in the brain and in effect, limits or eliminates the euphoric effects of heroin and other opiates. Methadone maintenance has become a popular option for some heroin addicts and addiction specialists. Unfortunately, there is a large downside to this school of thought in drug treatment.

Compared to the 1 million Americans who are addicted to heroin, about 120,000 Americans take methadone, a relatively high number. Of this number, roughly 20% of methadone users continue their methadone replacement program for 10 years or more. It is easy to see that methadone treatment is simply the replacement of one addiction for another, not a cure for heroin addiction.

Although withdrawal symptoms from methadone are not quite as severe as those from heroin, they are much longer in duration. While the typical heroin detox period takes from 10 to 15 days, detox from methadone will often last 5 or 6 weeks with withdrawal symptoms that are only slightly less uncomfortable than heroin.

Many addicts say that kicking methadone is even harder than kicking a heroin habit. Many heroin addicts have tried to bypass the painful withdrawal period by going through a rapid opiate detox procedure. These procedures involve placing the patients under general anesthesia and administering drugs that accelerate the detox process within the body.

While these treatment procedures are helpful for addicts who want to avoid uncomfortable and painful heroin withdrawal, when they are undergone alone and without drug treatment, they are highly ineffective. The success rate of recovering heroin and opiate addicts who complete a residential drug rehab program is much, much higher.

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Updated: May 22, 2013 — 7:09 pm

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