With the opioid epidemic sweeping across the country, the spotlight has been on several of the most potent types of opioids. Methadone, often sold under the brand name Dolophine, started making headlines in 2012 after an early study released by the Center for Disease Control showed that methadone alone counted for nearly one-third of all opioid related deaths in the United States.
Since then, the instances of methadone overdoses have declined across the country partly because of a strict control on methadone prescriptions. Methadone use is on the rise again, but this time in an attempt to treat other types of opioid addiction.
What Is Methadone?
Methadone is in a classification of drugs known as opioids. Opioids have been widely publicized lately due to their high risk of addiction and overdose. There are many different types of opioids that can vary in potency and length of effect, however, most opioids are prescribed to treat severe or chronic pain from a major surgery or trauma.
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Methadone is a unique type of opioid in the sense that it can be prescribed to help treat opioid addiction as well as pain. It may sound counterproductive to treat opioid addiction with another opioid, but a technique is known as ‘methadone maintenance’ has been proven to work for some individuals suffering from opioid addiction. Low doses of methadone-associated with ‘methadone maintenance’ can introduce just enough opioids into your system to calm cravings or withdrawal symptoms stemming from opioid abuse, without creating the euphoric high that is often associated with taking opioids recreationally.
While this technique does work for some individuals, methadone is still an opioid and carries with it the same risk of addiction and dependency that other opioids have. Methadone can also slow breathing and heart rate like other opioids, which makes an overdose very possible, especially when combined with other prescription or illicit drugs.
The Opioid Epidemic In America
It has been shown all over the news and social media – the Opioid Epidemic is sweeping across the nation and taking many lives in its path. Why is this drug epidemic so publicized compared to others? One of the main reasons is just how surprisingly innocent it can start. For other types of addiction, a traumatic life event or perhaps spending time with the wrong group of people can often lead to the first few times of trying drugs, which can potentially develop into addiction and drug abuse over time.
With opioids, however, the addiction begins for many in a doctor’s’ office with something as benign as a prescription to help control extreme or chronic pain. The potency and addictiveness of these prescriptions come quickly and is often unsuspected by the patient. Once the patient’s initial scripts run out, they are introduced to cravings and withdrawal symptoms signifying that the brain needs more of that drug. And the cycle of addiction is born in a very unsuspecting victim.
This brings new and different faces to the issue of addiction, along with making physicians and medical professionals accountable for part of the epidemic. The causes and faces of opioid addiction are different and shocking from the types of addiction the country has witnessed over the past century, which is one of the reasons the media covers it so much. It is also spreading quickly and hitting small, rural communities as well as larger cities, making it a danger to the nation as a whole.
The Natural Origins Of Opioids
There are many drugs that are considered to be ‘highly addictive’ by professional health organizations, so why are opioids considered to be such an issue? The legal accessibility and over-prescription of opioids are one of the main reasons opioid addiction has become a growing problem in the states.
Opioids technically change the way we perceive pain, although it is commonly mistaken that they actually reduce pain. Opioids interact with your body by binding to naturally occurring opioid receptors in your brain. Opioid-like chemicals are naturally produced in your brain, which is why these receptors exist in the first place, however, a dose of synthetic opioids is far stronger than anything your body naturally produces.
Your body would naturally activate these opioid receptors with these organically occurring chemicals during times of extreme distress or trauma. Activating these receptors would temporarily provide enough pain mis-perception to allow you to get out of harm’s way in order to tend to your wounds. This natural coping mechanism was meant to help our ancestors survive in the wild, but can still be witnessed today during traumatic events such as automobile accidents. Today we refer to it as being in ‘shock’.
The Dangerous Introduction Of Synthetic (Non-Natural) Opioids
The fact that a drug was created that could interact with receptors already positioned within the central nervous system to enhance a naturally occurring chemical reaction is part of the reason synthetic opioids are so successfully potent. When synthetic opioids are introduced to your body, the effects are much more intense than what you could feel from going into ‘shock’. While this can be extremely beneficial when it comes to blocking extreme pain, there are many other effects that come along with using synthetic opioids like methadone.
Synthetic, or non-natural, opioids are able to block or slow pain signals from reaching the brain by making your central nervous system’s communications sluggish. This includes slowing respiration (breathing) rate, heart rate, and blood pressure to an unnatural level. Even when taken exactly as prescribed, this can potentially present a danger in individuals with already low resting heart rates and blood pressure. This risk increases exponentially when an individual is abusing opioids by combining them with other drugs, taking too large of a dose, or taking the drug recreationally.
Synthetic opioids can also create a calming effect when they slow the central nervous system’s communication efforts. This calming effect is one of the reasons opioids are so commonly abused, and it is often the high a user is looking for when they take opioids like methadone recreationally. Unfortunately, opioids are among the most addictive drugs in the country. Even when taken exactly as prescribed, it is not uncommon for individuals to become addicted to the incredibly destructive drug.
It is incredibly difficult to break an opioid addiction without professional help, and prescription opioid addiction can quickly move to heroin and other illicit drugs as a cheaper and more accessible alternative. This is one of the main reasons the opioid epidemic has been so destructive to so many lives. Something as innocent as taking an opioid prescription as recommended by your doctor can turn into a drug addiction in an alarmingly short amount of time.
Signs And Symptoms Of Methadone Use
Methadone is a fast-acting opioid that can start taking effect in the body within 30 minutes of taking the drug. If you suspect a family member or loved one has recently taken methadone, they may present some of the following symptoms:
- Dry mouth
- Nausea, vomiting
- Dilated pupils
- Inability to tolerate heat, or to regulate temperature
- Sweaty palms, feet, or night sweats
- Low blood pressure, slow breathing
- Difficulty urinating
- Chest pains
- Chronic fatigue
- Dizziness, drowsiness
What Are The Long-Term Effects Of Methadone Addiction?
Methadone can be an exceptionally dangerous drug and has been lethal to users in the past. Long-term or chronic abuse of the drug can increase these dangers as well. After prolonged periods of use, it is not uncommon for an individual suffering from methadone addiction to build a tolerance to the drug. This means that the user will need a higher dose to feel the same effects they did from their first dose.
Tolerance can camouflage the large dose required to feel similar effects, which can cause an individual to unknowingly overdose even though they do not feel any more of a high than they have in the past. Increasing the amount or frequency of methadone can lead to devastating effects over time, including:
- Susceptibility to cravings
- Irritation or aggression towards others
- Auditory and visual hallucinations
- Severe depression
- Long-term heart and lung problems
- Panic disorder
Treatment Options For Methadone Addiction
If you suffer from methadone addiction, or if you believe a loved one or family member suffers from dependence on methadone, there is hope. Opioid addiction can be severe and difficult to overcome on your own, but there are many professional treatment options available across the country. Addiction treatment centers such as The Treehouse can provide you with the necessary resources to overcome methadone addiction, and equip you with the coping mechanisms needed to resist cravings and temptations down the road.
If you want to learn more about these treatment options, contact one of the treatment specialists at The Treehouse today. Your call will always be 100% confidential, and our specialists are available day or night to take your call. Start your journey to recovery today.
- Center for Disease Control — Vital Signs: Risk for Overdose from Methadone Used for Pain Relief
- Drugs.com — Methadone
- National Institute of Health (NIH) — Maintenance Medication for Opiate Addiction: The Foundation of Recovery
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — Methadone
- Systematic Reviews Journal — The Effectiveness Of Opioid Substitution Treatments