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Just the Facts, Ma'am
There is a great deal of controversy surrounding the use of methadone for the treatment of opiate addicts, a practise prevalent since the early 60s. Here we present you with 'just the facts.'
Methadone is a synthetic narcotic similar in effect to morphine. It was first synthesized in Germany, and came into clinical use after World War II. It is occasionally used as an analgesic, and to suppress the cough reflex.
In the brains of addicts, methadone prevents heroin or morphine from interacting with receptors for natural painkillers called 'endorphins', thus blocking the effects of the addictive drugs, and reducing the physical cravings. In controlled doses it creates mild euphoria and drowsiness, but those effects last longer (1 - 2 days) than heroin, and do not create the sometimes fatal respiratory depression that opiates do.
Its continued use as a heroin substitute has been proven to eventually restore sexual, immune, and adrenal function. When methadone is given to a heroin addict who is later withdrawn from it, the addict will undergo methadone withdrawal (instead of the more severe heroin withdrawal).
Methadone is used to wean the addict from heroin, and thus break out of the self-destructive lifestyle that addiction to opiates inevitably spirals into. In most maintenance programs methadone is dispensed in oral form (usually in a citrus liquid base, and thus earning the nickname, "juice") under medical supervision. If drug counseling and medical care are concurrent, treatment is more effective.
PROS AND CONS
Critics point out that methadone patients are still addicts and that methadone therapy does not help addicts with their personality problems: in many cases multiple drug use and a strong psychological dependence undermine the gains made. Some addicts find ways to resell their prescribed methadone on the street in order to buy heroin. But supporters point out that methadone maintenance, being oral, breaks the dangerous ritual of intravenous injection; that it is legal and eliminates the addict's need to engage in crime to pay for drugs; and that it gives addicts a chance to reevaluate their lives.
For more information, check out these links...
This article from the Drug Policy Alliance reviews the effects of methadone, its use as a treatment, myths and facts, drug interactions, issues related to overdose, special considerations with women, detoxification, and practical concerns related to driving and travel. The article is in PDF format, which requires Adobe Acrobat (free download).
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