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What is Methadone?

For thousands of years, humans have known of the analgesic qualities of Opium; in early Middle Eastern societies dating back to the Neolithic Age, evidence of Opium Poppy usage has been found. And for at least the last 300 years, societies have acknowledged that addiction to Opium has become a problem.

An opioid is a classification of narcotic derived from the sap of the Opium Poppy. Opioids can be found in legal prescription form such as morphine, codeine and oxycontin, and illegal drug form such as heroine.

Because of its ability to attach to specific receptors in the brain, spinal cord and gastrointestinal tract, opioids are excellent at blocking the users' perception of pain. In addition to providing relief from pain, they also induce a euphoric "high", or rush, followed by lingering sensations of relaxation and freedom from anxiety.

As the body adjusts to these euphoric sensations, it begins to stop producing its own mood-regulating hormones, causing the body to need greater and greater quantities of the opioid to produce the same euphoria. This is why opioids can be highly addictive; if the amount taken is greater than is medically necessary, is taken more frequently than needed, is taken by a non-prescribed method, or when not needed at all, a regular user can quickly become addicted to the Opiate.

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Opioid Effect

Opioids can cause depressed respiration, dilated pupils, constipation due to muscle movement inhibition and in increased risk of other physical and mental health problems; as well as increasing the user's risk of sexually transmitted diseases, Hepatitis B or C, HIV infection and liver disease due to "risky" behavior.

Because of the heightened pleasure inducing qualities, opioids are extremely addicting, and those seeking to escape their addition have a difficult time overcoming the cravings for the opioid and withstanding the symptoms of withdrawal. This is where Methadone is of value.

Methadone, a synthetic opioid, was originally created to relieve moderate to severe pain that was not able to be treated by non-narcotic pain-relievers. While Methadone has the same pain relieving, anti-anxiety qualities that other opioids have, it does not produce the same euphoric, intoxicating or sedating effects. It has been found that Methadone can also block the euphoria inducing effects of other opioids and can relieve the symptoms of opioid withdrawal.

Any successful treatment program for opioid addiction must take into consideration the likelihood that a user may still use opioids, or other substances, in the beginning of treatment, and may have relapses. Treatment programs need to evaluate each patient individually, and determine the best course of treatment. This treatment plan often includes the use of Methadone.

Reducing the cravings and withdrawal symptoms, Methadone allows users to avoid the highs and lows of opioid use, decreasing the chances of a patient relapsing. If opioid use has persisted for years, it make take years of treatment to completely break the addiction to the opioid.

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Methadone Treatment Programs

According to the CDC, outcomes of successful treatment increase as the dose of Methadone use increases and as the length of time spent in treatment increases. They recommend that a minimum of 12 months is spent in a treatment program, with some individuals benefiting from a course of treatment that is extended over a period of years. Some of the reasons that opioid addiction treatment fail are due to the myriad of other issues and problems opioid users often have. Many have mental health problems, are also addicted to cocaine or crack, and suffer from alcohol abuse.

Anyone needing Methadone for the treatment of an opioid addiction must be under the care of a treatment program, as serious side effects could occur, including drowsiness, lightheadedness, weakness, fatigue, dry mouth, difficulty urinating, difficulty breathing, or constipation.

Methadone treatment programs have many benefits, including: the reduced or stopped use of injection drugs; lowered risk of overdose; lowered rates of disease transmission; increased life expectancy; reduction in risky sexual behaviors; reduced criminal activity; and improved family and social stability.

The benefits to Methadone use during the course of treatment for opioid dependence far outweighs the side effects possible.

The road to recovery for anyone addicted to opioids is a long process, but with the right treatment, and time, they can eventually regain control over their addiction.

Sources:

Center for Disease Control. Methadone Maintenance Treatment. February 2002

National Institute . Principals of Drug Addiction treatment: a research-based guide. Rockville (MD): NIDA; 1999 NIH Publication No 99-4180

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