Methadone abuse refers to the illegal consumption of a very powerful synthetic narcotic. Methadone is used legally in the United States and elsewhere to treat heroin addiction and to relieve pain caused by cancer and other serious ailments. Under the United States’ Controlled Substances Act, methadone is listed as a Schedule II drug along with cocaine and methamphetamine, substances that have a high potential for abuse and addiction.
During World War II, the Nazis had German scientists develop a synthetic opiate in order to stave off withdrawal symptoms of various opiate drugs, should a shortage of raw opium become a problem. The result was trade-named Dolophine, years later given the generic name methadone by the American Medical Association.
Methodone has some interesting properties that make it a good candidate for helping people to kick heroin addiction. Heroin causes a temporary euphoria, followed by a period of clear-thinking, giving way to symptoms of withdrawal. These symptoms can include craving, irritability, depression, abdominal pain, vomiting and muscle tremors. Withdrawal is so uncomfortable the heroin addict will seek out another fix to stave off symptoms, starting a new cycle.
Prescribed in the right dosage, methadone lacks the euphoric high of heroin, is slower to take effect, but eradicates the withdrawal symptoms of heroin, allowing a person to kick the habit. Best of all it is cheap and lasts 24-72 hours, rather than the four to eight hours of a heroin cycle. Due to its chemical makeup, it does not disrupt neurological functioning in the way heroin does, making it possible for someone to lead a productive life even while taking methadone regularly, in place of heroin.
The drawback is that methadone is as addictive as heroin, and withdrawal from methadone is worse than heroin withdrawal. While heroin withdrawal might take up to 10 days, methadone withdrawal can take 30 days or more. Often people choose to continue taking methadone to avoid dealing with a withdrawal scenario. In a clinical setting, methadone abuse is treated by gradually lowering the patient’s dosage over a prolonged period of time while keeping the patient under close supervision.
Increased availability and affordability have caused methadone to gain ground on the black market, perhaps more so since the crack-down on OxyContin. People might be opting to get methadone when heroin or OxyContin are unavailable.
Whatever the reasons, growing methadone abuse has resulted in escalating deaths annually. The nature of the drug might be part of the problem. The delayed effects can cause a party-goer to think nothing is happening. When euphoria doesn’t come, he or she takes more, and more again, assuming the drug isn't working. Hours later when the overdose becomes apparent, no one is around to witness the abuser’s distress and death can quickly follow.
Like other opiates, methadone abuse is marked by increased tolerance to the drug with use. Someone new to methadone might watch a friend with a methadone habit consume an enormous amount, assuming wrongly that the dose is safe for anyone. Methadone can be hard to dose correctly, even for trained health care professionals.
Recovery from methadone abuse might require entry into a treatment program or residential rehabilitation clinic. There are several treatment facilities located worldwide, many available online by using a search engine. Some centers have a 1-800 hotline you can call for immediate assistance. Medical emergencies should always be directed to local emergency services.