The drug methadone isn’t new. In fact, according to the National Drug Intelligence Center, methadone has been available on a prescription basis in the United States since 1947.
Sometimes, it’s provided to people who have significant pain, and sometimes, it’s provided to people in recovery from an opiate addiction.
Recently, methadone has been associated with something very different. Now, people are choosing to take methadone on a recreational basis, and those who do might develop an addiction to this drug. Thankfully, with the right kind of help and assistance, they can recover from this addiction.
Opiate drugs like methadone trigger chemical reactions in the brain. These changes may not be visible to the naked eye, but when they’re in play, a person under the influence can feel remarkably happy, relaxed, and free of all worries.
Any opiate works like this but methadone is different, in part, because it lasts for a long time. The National Traffic Safety Administration suggests, for example, that methadone lasts longer than morphine, so people in severe, acute pain might be able to wait up to four hours between doses.
That could be a selling point for people who want to abuse drugs. By choosing methadone over another opiate, they could be choosing a drug that gives them a longer-lasting high.
That high doesn’t come without some side effects. According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research, short-term side effects can include:
- Itchy skin
- Sexual dysfunction
- Slow breathing
Some of these side effects are unpleasant, while others can become life-threatening. For example, the slow breathing rates some people experience while taking methadone can become so severe and significant that people slip into coma-like states. They may find it hard to awaken, and without prompt medical attention, they may stop breathing altogether.
Patterns of Abuse
Methadone’s side effects should, in theory, keep people from abusing the drug, but unfortunately, some people do choose to take the drug for recreational purposes. Those drug abusers tend to fall into one of two groups.
The first group is made up of experienced opioid drug abusers who are willing to take almost any drug within this class. They might take prescription painkillers like Vicodin when they’re available, and they might switch to heroin if that drug is available. When methadone is on hand, they’ll take that drug.
Data outlined by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids seems to suggest that this type of drug user is focused on methadone given to people in pain. Typically, those in pain are provided with lozenges or disks, while people who take methadone for drug-rehabilitation purposes typically obtain a liquid form of the drug. Since overdoses are usually associated with recreational use, and overdoses typically come from lozenges or disks, the data seems to suggest that this group of drug abusers accesses methadone created for people in pain.
The second group of people is comprised of people addicted to opioids. People like this might get methadone from those who have a prescription. That kind of diversion is common, as a study in the Harm Reduction Journal found that 60 percent of people with a prescription to methadone also took the drug illicitly, when they obtained it from others.
When methadone is prescribed properly for people with an opiate addiction, it doesn’t produce a high. People don’t feel euphoric or happy when they’re using methadone to deal with an opiate addiction. Instead, they just feel normal. The methadone helps to correct the brain imbalance caused by a long history of addiction.
But if people taking methadone add in just a little more of the drug, they might very well experience a high. That extra kiss of the drug helps to overwhelm the brain, and euphoria could quickly follow.
Those who give methadone to others might not intend to help an addiction to continue. In fact, a separate study in the Harm Reduction Journal found that giving methadone to someone else was seen as a helpful act, not a harmful act. People who give their drugs away are hoping to help someone else through a difficult period or a tough withdrawal, but by giving away the drug, they could be doing a great deal of harm.
Risks of Abuse
For people in recovery from an opioid addiction, each additional dose of methadone is incredibly risky. Their brain cells are trying to recover from exposure to very strong drugs. Methadone can work like a bridge, allowing that healing to happen at a controlled pace. With each illicit methadone dose, that recovery is stalled and delayed. In some cases, it might stop altogether.
For those who are new to methadone, the drug’s power could be overwhelming. They might take too much of the drug and experience an overdose. Or they might not account for the long-lasting nature of the drug, and they might take a second dose when the first hadn’t worn off. That could also lead to an overdose.
Unfortunately, these kinds of overdoses are on the rise. The National Drug Intelligence Center found that the number of methadone poisoning deaths increased greatly between 1999 and 2004, and many states saw increases in 2005 and 2006 as well. This seems to suggest that more and more people are ignoring the risks and continuing to take this drug in ways that medical professionals would never authorize. Thankfully, there’s a great deal that families can do to help someone who is choosing to abuse methadone.
It’s not always easy to tell if someone is abusing methadone. Someone who has a prescription for the drug might sometimes experience episodes of drowsiness, so families can’t look for physical signs to highlight an addiction.
But behaviors relating to methadone might be harder to hide. For example, those who have a prescription for methadone but who abuse the drug might consistently ask for new prescriptions. They might claim that the last refill was lost or stolen, or they might claim that they got shorted at the pharmacy. They might attempt to visit multiple doctors, hoping to get new prescriptions, or they might try to get family members to get prescriptions they can then steal.
People with methadone addictions aren’t trying to be devious, and they’re probably not trying to break the law or align with criminals. Instead, they have a very real brain disease that is driving their behavior – and that disease can be treated.
People with pre-existing opioid addictions have probably been through one round of addiction care. Since they’re abusing methadone now, that’s a sign that the care they got didn’t quite work and that a stronger form of care is needed. If that first round of treatment took place in an outpatient clinic, they might need to head to inpatient facilities for help. If they didn’t go to counseling at all, this is a sign that they should start. The methadone addiction shows that the original therapy just didn’t provide enough help.
Those who have no prior history of addiction can start a whole new life in treatment. Through counseling, they can find out why methadone seemed appealing to them, and with the help of support groups, they can learn how others have recovered from addiction. With this kind of care, they might see an intense recovery in no time at all.
Whether the person you love has had treatment before, or whether this is your family’s first experience with addiction care, we can help. Just call us, and we’ll tell you more about the treatment options available to your family. We’ll help guide you to the right place, at the right time. Just call to get started.