Finding A Workable Methadone Detox Has Never Been More Crucial

Finding A Workable Methadone Detox Has Never Been More Crucial

State death statistics across the country are showing that prescription drugs continue to be major killers, and that the narcotic painkiller methadone is taking more lives than heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine. And although treatment statistics are not generally available, the consensus is that methadone detox is among the most difficult to endure, condemning most addicts to a life on drugs.

Since 1999, methadone-related deaths have increased more than fivefold across the country. And in most states, methadone accounts for more drug-related deaths than all other prescription drugs, and more than any of the traditional illicit street drugs.

For example, in Florida, methadone caused 785 deaths in 2007, up from 367 in 2003. And in Oregon, statistics just released for 2008 reveal 131 overdose deaths from methadone, compared with 119 heroin-related, 106 methamphetamine-related, 51 cocaine-related, and 46 deaths resulting from a combination of these illicit drugs.

And although addiction to methadone and the many other prescription painkillers like OxyContin, oxycodone, hydrocodone and morphine is common, you don't have to be addicted to be killed by methadone. A single dose of the drug can cause respiratory failure, unconsciousness and death.

The soaring methadone death rates are directly tied to expanded use by physicians across the country. For decades, methadone was used almost exclusively as a replacement drug for heroin addicts. But in the 1990s, doctors, patients and insurance companies began the swing to methadone because of its far lower cost, replacing more expensive painkillers like oxycodone, Vicodin and Percocet.

The problem lies in how methadone works. With a much longer "half-life" in the body than other opioid painkillers, it can take several days to have a pain-relieving effect on some people. Sometimes people don't get the immediate effect they want, so they take more than they should, resulting in overdose and death.

Until recently, patients were not properly cautioned about the how methadone builds up in the body. It can be so dangerous that some pharmacists have dubbed it the "scary pill", and recently, some physicians are backing away from prescribing it.

Methadone, like any opioid, creates higher and higher tolerances among users, requiring dosages to be slowly increased over time to achieve the same effect. Chronic pain patients on methadone for extended periods, as well as opiate addicts placed on methadone as a 'treatment' for addiction, can reach daily dosage levels many times higher than the initial recommended doses.

But when someone in this condition wants to go through methadone detox and get off the drug, they find it is almost impossible. The severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms dwarfs all other opioid withdrawals. Traditional methadone detox methods for even moderate daily doses can last a week or more for lower doses, although detoxing from heroin, morphine and other opioids generally take less time. Higher daily doses of methadone can mean several weeks of unbearable symptoms. The result is that most methadone addicts shy away from the traditional methadone detox and are forced to remain addicted. And many methadone addicts who have tried and failed at methadone detox wind up on more methadone than they used before trying a methadone detox.

The clinical director of Novus Medical Detox Center in Pasco County, FL, says that the usual methods employed by most methadone detox clinics are ineffective at reducing the severe withdrawal symptoms, compelling most addicts to leave without hope of recovery. And high-dose methadone addicts are often unable to find help at all.

"Most clinics won't accept high-dose methadone addicts, dashing hopes for recovery for addicts who have progressed to higher dosages," the Director said. "The fact is, most methadone addicts, at any level of dosage, are unable to withstand the withdrawal symptoms. But fortunately, new methadone detox protocols have been developed."

the Director said that a recently developed methadone detox protocol at the Novus center allows even high-dose users - some exceeding 300 mg a day - to step down and get off methadone, and all other opioids - in under two weeks, with a minimum of withdrawal symptoms.

"Full and complete methadone detox is attainable," the Director said, "bringing new hope to methadone addicts. "Methadone detox centers that offer this kind of help do exist, and we encourage anyone trapped by methadone addiction to keep looking, and not to give up their quest for a drug-free life."

Rod MacTaggart is a freelance writer that contributes articles on health.

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