What is Methadone? How is it Ingested or Used?


A Controversial “Harm Reduction” Treatment for Opiate Abuse

Methadone, an opioid drug, is used for opiate addiction but it can also be used as a pain reliever. When a person begins use of methadone, medical professionals carefully monitor them to make sure the dose is the right level. Because methadone is quite dangerous when the dose is too high, medical supervision is necessary for administering this drug. When a person abuses methadone, however, there is no medical professional around to help them. The user is “playing with fire” when guessing the dosage of the drug.

Methadone is quite controversial due to the fact that it is typically prescribed as the “lesser of two evils” to someone who is abusing opiate drugs like heroin and OxyContin.  However, while it might seem counterintuitive to prescribe an addictive medication to take the place of another, the amount of risk involved is much less with methadone (as well as the benefit of the increased monitoring the individual can receive when they get the methadone via legal outlets).

Methadone can come as a small pill that can be taken orally or dissolved. Sometimes it is administered as a liquid that can be drunk, diluted or injected. Most people who become dependent on methadone are prescribed it to help wean them from opiates such as heroin.

What Are Some Of the Other Names for Methadone?

  • Methadose
  • Done
  • Junk (more commonly refers to heroin)
  • Jungle Juice
  • Fizzies

The drug may be known by other street names in different parts of the country.

What is the History of Methadone?

Unlike other opioids, methadone is entirely synthetic with no opium poppy-derived ingredients. It was synthesized in 1939 by the German chemical and pharmaceutical company, I.G. Farben. It has been speculated that methadone painkiller was researched as part of the effort to keep Nazi Germany free of dependence on other countries and outside resources. Because of negative side effects reported during research, Nazi Germany never produced methadone for use in the general population or the military.

After Germany’s defeat, the U.S. Department of Commerce and Intelligence confiscated I.G. Farben’s research and records, and thus acquired the methadone research. The drug was approved by the FDA as a painkiller in 1947 and introduced into the U.S. market by Eli Lilly and Company as the analgesic painkiller, Dolophine. There were a few reported incidents of addiction to methadone in the early years, both in the U.S. and the U.K.

Because of the post-war increase in heroin addiction, which rapidly reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. during the 1950s, methadone was studied as an alternative treatment drug to wean users off of heroin. This solution to the heroin epidemic was proposed by researchers at the Rockefeller Foundation and first put into practice in New York City, where heroin addiction had created a crime epidemic and a public health emergency.

Methadone clinics first opened in the 1960’s in New York City.  This solution to help addicts stop using heroin spread rapidly across the U.S. and worldwide. There are currently tens of thousands of methadone clinics around the world. For millions of patients, transitioning from heroin to methadone has been a lifesaving strategy which allows a patient to maintain a healthy and productive life.

What are Methadone Effects as Compared to Other Opioid Drugs?

Methadone is designed to block the euphoric effects achieved by using opioid drugs such as heroin, morphine and oxycodone, though it acts on the same mu opioid receptors in the brain. It is slow acting, so the user does not normally need to take more than one dose a day to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Although it prevents onset of withdrawal symptoms, it doesn’t cause intoxication when taken as prescribed.

A methadone patient can safely perform activities that require alertness, like driving. It is not safe to take other drugs or drink alcohol while on methadone maintenance. Even herbal remedies like St. John’s Wort can be unsafe to use, so patients must be medically monitored while on methadone maintenance.

How Does a Clinic Administer Methadone Maintenance?

Patients visiting a methadone clinic for the first time must undergo a physical examination and receive counseling to determine the best approach and safest dosage. For patients with dual-diagnosis, all treatment must be coordinated to ensure health and safety. A treatment plan is developed which is tailored to the specific needs of each patient.

Methadone dosage is prescribed by a medical staff and must be adjusted periodically. The first dose is small, and gradually increased over a period of days to reach the prescribed level of maintenance. For patients who’ve recently used other opioids, initial dosage can be higher. Methadone is taken orally in pill, liquid or wafer form, normally administered once daily.

There are both public and private methadone clinics. The public clinics are less expensive; however the waiting lists to begin methadone maintenance treatment are longer for publically funded clinics. Some privately run clinics are problematic due to understaffing in order to cut corners and increase profit.

Because some private methadone clinics are understaffed, patients have been allowed to take home their daily dose, or even take home a thirty-day supply of methadone. This lack of oversight has led to illegal street sales of methadone, an addictive opioid drug.

Allowing methadone to leave the controlled atmosphere of a clinic and enter the streets via patients has led to widespread addiction and death from overdose.

What Are the Symptoms of Methadone Use or Abuse?

Although methadone does not have the same powerful euphoric rush that heroin and other opiates give users, a person who abuses methadone will probably feel an initial high when they begin the drug. They will quickly build a tolerance, and sometimes they will begin to take more and more of the drug to try to feel a high again.

Many of the physical symptoms of methadone abuse are similar to other opioids and can be a sign of an addiction to other drugs such as heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone, or morphine. Opiates such as these drugs often cause the user to become drowsy and nod off. They may experience muscle weakness, drowsiness, weakness, disorientation and slurred speech. Opiate users often have trouble sleeping and other physical symptoms such as constipation, headache, dry mouth, itchiness and lack of appetite. They may have trouble thinking, talking or walking normally.

What Are the Long-Term Effects and Dangers of Methadone Use?

A person who uses methadone for a long period of time may sweat a lot and suffer other unpleasant side effects such as weight gain. They may have mood swings and outbursts. Methadone users often complain about skin rashes, water retention or difficulty urinating.

When a user starts taking doses too close together the likelihood of overdose increases. Thousands of people who use methadone accidentally overdose every year. Many users suffer from dangerously slow breathing and an irregular heartbeat, which necessitates a trip to the hospital to prevent a heart attack or stroke. The drug can also cause kidney damage and liver failure after long periods of usage.

Signs and Symptoms of Methadone Dependency/Abuse

A person who is addicted to methadone will develop a tolerance that causes them to seek out more of the drug. They will continue to seek the drug more often, and their quality of life suffers as a result. They may lose a job or have trouble with their finances. They may lose interest in what used to be their favorite activities. They become increasingly withdrawn and disinterested in daily life. They’re most interested in where their next high will come from. They may doctor shop or steal to support their habit. Their main preoccupation will be the finding and using of methadone (or an opiate substitute).

Physical symptoms of methadone addiction include weight loss or retaining water. Users with liver damage from using methadone may suffer from yellowing skin and/or eyes (jaundice) and have limbs that retain water. The user may have withdrawal symptoms such as shaking, sweating, yawning, muscle aches, restlessness and insomnia. While detoxing from the drug, they may have bouts of vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps. Because of these miserable symptoms, it’s advised that a person trying to get clean from methadone do so in a supervised clinical setting. Doing so will help prevent any complications that may arise from detox and help alleviate many of the symptoms through medication.

Getting Help for an Opiate Addiction

Methadone is a lifesaving alternative for people who are addicted to opioid drugs. Many people who become addicted to opiates can use methadone to begin the recovery process and eventually detox from the methadone’s effects as well. However, when misused, methadone addiction is just as dangerous as addiction to any other opioid drug. It is very easy to use too much methadone and suffer a fatal overdose when chasing a high that the drug is designed to block.

If you or somebody you love is faced with an opiate addiction, it’s time to reclaim your life. An inpatient treatment program has been shown to give the highest likelihood of long term recovery. Pick up the phone to call us at the phone number above. We’ll be happy to help you explore your treatment options and help you start the path to recovery.