Methadone is a prescription drug used most commonly to relieve pain and treat withdrawal symptoms from opioid drugs such as heroin. It is similar to morphine, but is less addictive to the patient. This drug has been widely studied, and it is used in many drug addiction recovery programs.
The reason that methadone works is that it replaces the need for an opiate in the brain. When an individual is addicted to heroin or a similar narcotic, an excess of dopamine is released into the body. Addiction is caused by the user’s need for continuous occupation of the opioid receptor by an opiate. Methadone occupies this receptor and stabilizes dopamine production, allowing the user to safely detoxify from heroin or other opioids while keeping withdrawal symptoms at bay.
Ultimately, the patient will become dependent on this drug instead of heroin. This is regarded by the medical community as beneficial, however, as the individual is free of the compulsive and detrimental behavior of a heroin addict. Many addicts will require a long-term continuous treatment plan, often taking several years, to be free of any type of opiate addiction. Methadone is simply the first step on that path.
According to the American Office of National Drug Control Policy, methadone is a safe and effective medication for treating narcotic dependence. It must be used under the supervision of a medical professional, as abuse can result in serious side effects. If used properly, this treatment will not interfere with cognitive functions, mental facilities, or ordinary day-to-day activities. It is not a sedative or intoxicant, but instead relieves the cravings experienced by opiate addicts without causing a “high.”
Minor side effects of this drug include constipation, excessive sweating, drowsiness, and water retention. Once a tolerance is established, these symptoms typically subside. If the drug is abused, however, it can cause slowed breathing that can result in death. It should also not be combined with alcohol, as this can cause dangerous side effects or death. The dosage instructions provided by a healthcare professional should never be exceeded, and individuals should never stop taking the drug suddenly.
Some individuals may not be able to safely take methadone, including women who are pregnant or nursing. It can cause harm to an unborn baby, including addiction or withdrawal symptoms after birth, and can be passed through the breast milk from mother to child. People with asthma, COPD, or other breathing disorders should not take this drug, nor should sufferers of liver or kidney disease, bowel obstruction, epilepsy or other seizure disorders, low blood pressure, or gallbladder disease.