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The real dangers of methadone

While methadone has been useful for many years in the treatment of addiction to opiates like heroin, there are dangers related to methadone that users should be aware of. What are these risks? We review here. Then, we invite your questions or comments about methadone and its dangers in the comments section at the end of the article.

The dangers of methadone use surface over time

Methadone is a synthetic opiate commonly used as a pain reliever or as a way to manage addiction to other opiates. It was synthesized in 1947 during WWII in Nazi Germany, when opium was in short supply. Those in Hitler’s regime who were addicted to opium asked chemists to create a drug to replace it, which resulted in methadone.

The effects of methadone last much longer than that of poppy-based opiates, which is why it came to be used in the management of addiction to other opiates like heroin, which only lasts a few hours and requires frequently repeated doses to maintain the drug-induced state. By the mid-1960s, methadone maintenance treatment had become a widespread way to curb the illegal use of opiates, along with the disease and criminal behavior associated with it. However, it has taken time for the dangers of methadone use to surface.

The real dangers of methadone use

Methadone has produced positive results in the treatment of opiate addiction. When used as prescribed, it can block cravings for stronger opiates and lead to improved health and social outcomes. However, tolerance to methadone and dependence can develop with the use of the drug, just as with any opiate. Additionally, twelve (12) months of treatment on methadone is considered the minimum dosing regimen, and some people can be on methadone for years. In fact, its use in the management of pain or addiction is considered somewhat controversial today.

With proper use of methadone, clients can reduce or stop the use of harder opiates such as heroin, morphine, or codeine. Still, often enough, the drug use “transfers” the addiction from the original opiate to methadone, which is then used as a substitute substance.  Getting help for methadone addiction involves physical AND psychological treatment. Because methadone is a relatively inexpensive drug, it’s easy to purchase, and has the capacity to produce mild euphoria, some people who take methadone abuse it. Further, the fear of methadone withdrawal causes many patients in methadone treatment to continue use indefinitely, depriving them of a drug-free life.

Medical programs dispense limited amounts of methadone for treatment, so many users will turn to illicit sources as they build a tolerance to the drug. In addition, there is a significant risk for overdose with methadone. Too much can be fatal.

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So, the main dangers of methadone include:

  • drug addiction “transference”
  • drug dependence on methadone
  • drug tolerance
  • indefinite, chronic use with no exit plan
  • fatality
  • overdose

How to mitigate the dangers of methadone use with detox

Getting off methadone can be difficult, but rewarding. In fact, many users consider withdrawing from methadone more difficult and painful than withdrawing from heroin, so detox can be a significant challenge. Detoxification requires a tapering off of the drug, with typical withdrawal symptoms following within 24 hours, including:

  • depression and anxiety
  • excessive sweating
  • irritated eyes
  • lightheadedness
  • nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • strong drug cravings
  • uncontrollable shaking

In addition, as methadone wards off physical aches and pains, once it is eliminated from the body, those pains may return, sometimes with stronger intensity.

Because of the dangers of methadone withdrawal, individuals should carefully consider their options when it comes to detox. It is possible to detox fully, but proper medical assistance and emotional support will accelerate healing and assure the safety of an individual throughout the detox process. A medical history that includes age, drug usage details, family history and underlying mental disorders should be taken into consideration in order to develop an effective treatment plan. Some treatment plans include the use of medications, and with proper medical assistance, complete detox can take 30 days or less.

Methadone risk vs. benefit

Methadone can help many people overcome opiate addiction. It is an effective maintenance therapy because it retains patients in treatment and decreases harder drug better than treatments that do not utilize opioid replacement therapy. However, its use does come with risks. However, other drugs such as buprenorphine have been showing increasing promise as an alternative to methadone. Ultimately, it will be you and your physician’s decision as to whether or not methadone is the best for you. Knowing and understanding the risks can help you make a better informed choice.

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section below. We’ll do our best to respond to you personally and promptly.

Reference Sources: CDC: Methadone Maintenance Treatment
Oregon State: Methadone maintenance therapy versus no opioid replacement therapy for opioid dependence

Photo credit: USDA

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14 Responses to “The real dangers of methadone
Basim Elhabashy
2:51 pm March 5th, 2015

Thanks for sharing this informative post. Drugs are used as medicine but in proper dose, if it taken in over dose then it’s definitely bad for health.

Gail Scott
8:32 pm March 5th, 2015

I am an MSW student working at a treatment center where we use methadone & the problems described above are very real to me; most of our clients will continue on methadone for years with no thought to getting off & I was wondering when it should be mentioned as part of their treatment plan. It seems that most clients will just come in for counseling & receive their drink and I feel like nothing is changing. ( I should mention that I have been in recovery for 11 years from opiates but did not use methadone)

susan
2:39 pm March 15th, 2015

i help take care of my 79 yr. old, widowed future father in law. hes had numerous back operations for disintegrating disc disease. hes been on methadone quite a few years. he shows signs of addicton. i do take care of his meds. i keep the methadone in MY dresser drawer because he has dimentia for past few years and had gotten worse.he was either writing the time he took his pill and then not sure if he took it or taking the pill and forgetting to write it down. thats when i took over. he does see a pain mgmt. dr, who just upped his pills to 4 a day because of increasing pain. i dont know what to do. he asks for more pills sooner than he should, but i still only give him the 4 with an arguement!

5:36 pm March 20th, 2015

Hello Susan. Can you speak with his prescribing doctor? It might help to have the emotional support of someone on your side and to help you keep his medication schedule as needed.

susan
9:24 pm March 29th, 2015

Please excuse my question if it appears rude,its bedtime for my so…I have been researching this for ages and would like to know what you think as I feel hopeless with situation. I have never took heroin but became addicted and prescribed methadone since age 16, I’m now 39 n my whole life awful about this,there is not much help in the way of rehabs in the UK, may I ask your thoughts on this please?

11:53 am April 14th, 2015

Hi Susan. Unfortunately I am not closely familiar with methadone detox clinics in the UK. But, I was able to find a treatment center that looks promising and offers adequate methadone detox treatment and therapy. Here is their website http://www.pierpoint.co.uk/drugs/methadone-detox and you can also call t.0845 3881 543 with local call rate from anywhere in the UK. I hope they will be able to assist you.

Rupert
12:27 pm May 18th, 2015

I thought WW2 was over by 1947? It was actually synthesised in 1939 by I.G. Farbenkonzern (in Germany).

Rob
12:29 pm May 31st, 2015

I believe I have a unique dependency to methadone, a dependency none the less. I cannot find any information regarding small amount users such as myself. I have a hereditary physical problem RLS that has gotten worse over the years. My symptoms are involuntary muscle spasms that feel like tightening of my muscles throughout my body. I have tried drugs, herbs, massage, accu-puncture, accu-pressure and god knows what else. I decided to try methadone and it works for me. At present i am only taking daily 1mg but have been up to 2mg. I only take it for sleep. I recently tried to wind down and get off and was down to .03mg. It was not fun. Insomnia and uncontrolable muscle spasms usually would allow for 2-3 hours sleep. I did not have any other withdrawl symptoms. I have been taking MD for 2 years now and am starting to question why go off of it? The only thing I dislike about it is being tied to it. I live in a country where I can get 120mg for about $30usd so I only need to go in every 3-4 months. Anyone have any insight to my situation?

RPN
12:39 am July 13th, 2015

Thank you for your informative post. Opiate dependence can be tough to overcome, and there are many ways to beat the addiction.

R Johnson
7:37 pm August 29th, 2015

Medical professionals at methadone treatment centers partner with each patient to make an individual plan to restore the individual to a well-balanced and more productive lifestyle. While there are risks to administering methadone, it has been used to manage recovery plans very successfully.

Eric
5:42 pm January 14th, 2016

How dangers is Methadone. Is there a site where I can get the negative effects of Metha done??

Thank you.

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
6:47 pm January 14th, 2016

Hi, Eric. Methadone may be safe when used as prescribed, but it may cause many adverse effects. Here is our all data on methadone: http://prescription-drug.addictionblog.org/tag/methadone/ Hope you’ll find everything you need!

Beck
7:48 am April 27th, 2016

Awesome article, I came off 15yrs of md treatment mid January and I love the freedom I feel esp as I was having to attend a pharmacy daily. But my emotional well-being has been ignored, I’m off the program so I don’t receive psych help??? The hole I found myself in socially was terrible, now I have to create a new life away from it all and I’m struggling badly

Yohan
5:53 am June 2nd, 2016

I take oxycoden 30mg and hydromorphen 24mg and also long acting Morphen and my doctors want me to switch to 90mg of oxycoden and 5mg of methadone is this a good idea?

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About Jillian Jesser

Jillian Jesser loves life and tries to live it to the fullest each and every day. After failing to finish two drug and alcohol detox programs in as many years, she managed to complete the program the third time and follow through with residential treatment ending her addictions for good.

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