Methadone is a synthetic opioid that is used medically as a painkiller and as a substitute for addiction to narcotics such as heroin. It was first developed by German chemists in the late 1930s, during the time that the Allies cut off the opium supply to Nazi Germany. After WW2 the patents and research records were requisitioned by the Allies, brought to the US and produced by a drugs company. By 1947 it was introduced to the USA as a painkiller.
Today, abuse of methadone results in about 5,000 overdose deaths per year in the United States while in Scotland the casualty rate is equally grim: 247 deaths were attributed to methadone in 2011 while 206 died from heroin overdoses. Over a quarter of a million people in the UK are given daily doses of methadone by the NHS.
The Effects of Methadone
Methadone has similar effects as morphine but last much longer, which can increase the risk of overdose or death. While methadone can reduce the craving for other opioid drugs the patient’s addiction can be transferred from the initial drug to methadone itself.
Oral doses of methadone are used to “stabilise” opioid addicts patients by making the withdrawal symptoms more tolerable. In addition, higher doses of methadone can block the euphoric effects of heroin and similar drugs. Under strict medical supervision, methadone can be used to reduce their use of opioids.
Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms
There are several withdrawal symptoms associated with methadone addiction. While not everyone will suffer from all of these symptoms, one or more of them is common. Psychological and physical withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Excess sweating
- Depression and anxiety
- Aches and pains
- Uncontrollable shaking
- Strong cravings (often leading to relapse)
- Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
- Dilation of the pupils
The strongest methadone withdrawal symptoms begin to make their appearance in the first 24 -72 hours after the individual has stopped using. The withdrawal symptoms generally last a period of about a week, depending on the severity on the individual’s addiction.
Methadone Maintenance Therapy
Methadone maintenance therapy has been the most systematically studied, and most politically polarizing, of any pharmacotherapy for the treatment of drug addiction patients. The early studies showed methadone could interrupt illicit opioid use and reduce the associated costs to society, especially criminal acts carried out by heroin addicts in search of their next fix. Methadone maintenance really took off in the 1980s when it began to be prescribed in many countries to heroin addicts as part of the “Harm Reduction” measures that were being introduced to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS.
The Problem with Methadone Maintenance Therapy
Methadone maintenance therapy is supposed to be administered under strict medical supervision and with psychological (“talking”) therapies — with the aim of reducing the consumption of any opioids. But the cost of organising outpatient therapy for so many people (there are nowhere near enough therapists to serve such a huge number of methadone addicts) means that methadone tends to be distributed by chemists without any of the accompanying therapy. The only contact the patient has with the health service is with their GP, who tend to give out prescriptions that cover long periods of time and who don’t have the time or experience to offer counselling about the effects of methadone.
A study by Professor Neil McKeganey, chief researcher for Glasgow University’s Centre for Drug Misuse Research, showed that only 3.4% of drug addicts in Scotland recovered from drug addiction after using methadone.
The Side Effects of Methadone
Methadone can cause a wide range of side effects including drowsiness, weakness, nausea, insomnia, itching, lack of appetite, mood swings, skin rashes, difficulty urinating, insomnia, headaches. When taken in larger doses it can cause slow breathing, irregular heartbeat and death.
Methadone withdrawal can be very uncomfortable. Common methadone withdrawal symptoms are: sleeplessness, anxiety, muscle pains, stomach cramps, nausea.
While methadone withdrawal is similar to heroin or morphine withdrawal, but the drug stays in the system for longer than many other drugs. Symptoms of withdrawal from methadone can last three to six weeks. Therefore, methadone users should only detox under medical supervision.
At Castle Craig our goal is to ensure each patient’s safety and ease their physical and psychological discomfort during the methadone detoxification process. The methadone detox programme begins with a thorough pre-assessment by our Consultant Psychiatrist to determine the patient’s personalised needs. Each patient’s methadone detox regime is personalised according to the characteristics of their use history: how much and for how long they had been taking methadone and in combination with what other drugs, etc.
We provide 24/7 medically monitored detox. Our residential nursing staff monitor each patient regularly, so that withdrawal symptoms from methadone are carefully managed.
In order to help the body manage methadone withdrawal symptoms and adapt to decreasing amounts of the drug, the patient will be detoxed by slowly reducing their dose until zero. Towards the end of the detox, patients may be prescribed medications to help alleviate some of the physical symptoms of withdrawal.
Rehab Treatment for Methadone Addiction
At Castle Craig Rehab we offer a structured methadone addiction treatment programme, which includes medical care and detox supervision, followed by a personalised psychotherapy treatment plan for each patient.
Inpatient residential rehab is the most successful type of treatment for methadone addiction as it helps the patient overcome physical cravings while at the same time getting moral support in group therapy sessions.
Methadone addicted patients can explore the underlying causes of their drug problem and get treatment in a secure and peaceful environment, away from the problems of the outside world. By participating in our intensive therapy programme of individual and group therapy, complementary therapies, educational lectures and 12-step support groups patients develop coping strategies to guarantee their long-lasting sobriety and successful reintegration into their home environment.