Methadone: Prescription Drug Addiction Is The Least of Your Problems

Methadone: Prescription Drug Addiction Is The Least of Your Problems

Opioid painkillers come in all sorts of brand names - OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, Lortab, the list seems endless - and generic formulations abound. They all carry risks of dependency and abuse, which can lead to a full-blown prescription drug addiction, and can even kill you if overdosed or mixed with other drugs or alcohol. But one painkiller in particular, the opioid "methadone", is more than just an addictive painkiller that has resulted in prescription drug addiction for thousands of people. It's also a people-killer, plain and simple.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, methadone overdoses increased 500% between 1999 and 2005 - nearly 4,000 deaths, up from less than 800 in 1999. Methadone is inexpensive compared to brand name drugs, cheaper even than some other generics, it acts on the body as a painkiller for longer periods of time than other opioids, and it doesn't readily lend itself to abuse because it doesn't really get people 'high' in the strictest sense of that word.

For these reasons, methadone is now being prescribed for even moderate pain. And in the years since the survey quoted above, even more doctors are prescribing it instead of other painkillers which do get people 'high', leading to abuse and prescription drug addiction. But even though methadone users may not be getting high on it compared to OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet or Lortab, they certainly become 'numbed' and feel rather tranquilized and mellow, which is why even teenagers are now stealing and using it for recreation, not realizing they can rapidly become victims of prescription drug addiction and are risking their lives.

The problem starts with the chemistry of the drug itself. Unlike other opioids and opiates like OxyContin, Vicodin and all the others that are basically forms of heroin or morphine, methadone is not like heroin or morphine. Methadone, unlike other opioid painkillers, stays in the bloodstream long after pain relief has worn off. With the pain back, patients assume the drug has worn off and take more, leading to overdose, coma, respiratory failure, and death. Methadone also metabolizes more slowly. Pain relief can take a while, so patients might take more, risking overdose and death.

An FDA advisory in 2006 warned that, "Methadone can cause slow or shallow breathing and dangerous changes in heart beat that may not be felt by the patient." In other words, people can die without knowing they've done anything wrong, without ever coming close to a prescription drug addiction or dependency. The staggering statistics of overdose, and unexpectedly deaths on even the prescribed dosages, has health care providers saying it's not worth the risk except in very special circumstances. And for those who manage to survive taking the drug, methadone so rapidly creates physical dependence, and is so difficult to stop taking, that a truly safe withdrawal often requires a medical drug detox program to avoid the majority of its perilous withdrawal symptoms.

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