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Methadone Addiction – Treatment for Dependency in the UK

The topic of methadone as a synthetic opioid for prescription use is a touchy one given the fact that the UK government wholeheartedly endorses using the drug as a treatment for narcotic addiction. The question we have found ourselves asking for the better part of the last decade is whether using methadone is actually helpful as a drug treatment strategy. If it is, then fine. But if not, we need to find another way to help people rather than substituting one addiction for another (i.e. a methadone addiction).

Methadone is a synthetic drug that was developed by German chemists in the 1930s. Germany used it as a painkiller during World War II. After the war, methadone made it to the US, where it became a marketable pharmaceutical that turned out to be worth a lot of money. By the 1950s, it was one of the most popular synthetic opioids in North America and Europe.

Today, more than 250,000 people are provided daily doses of methadone in the UK alone. The drug comes directly from the NHS, which uses methadone as a treatment for heroin in the hope that addicts will eventually reduce their heroin intake. It may work for some, but the vast majority of patients put on methadone never recover from addiction. Meanwhile, the government is paying billions in benefits to those who cannot work because of their drug use.

Methadone Is Addictive

When methadone was first introduced as a treatment for heroin addiction, it was believed that the drug was less addictive and, therefore, safer than the illicit drugs it was intended to replace. But numerous studies over the years have shown this to be false. Methadone is an addictive drug that can be every bit as harmful as heroin.

Perhaps the biggest problem associated with methadone is that the effects of the drug tend to last longer than those of other drugs such as morphine and heroin. This is perceived as a strength among advocates of using the drug as an addiction treatment because it can help stabilise opioid addicts and assist them to cut down on the volume of illicit drugs they use.

However, the stabilisation strategy only works when methadone therapies are combined with regular counselling therapies and purposeful, controlled reduction of opioid intake. When drug addicts are given methadone without any additional counselling and forced opioid reduction, the longer-lasting effects of methadone only make the individual’s drug problem worse. Eventually, the addict becomes hooked on methadone as well.

A study from Glasgow’s University Centre for Drug Misuse Research demonstrated that fewer than 4% of drug addicts being treated with methadone in Scotland went on to fully recover from their addictions. The remainder either continued taking illicit drugs or simply substituted methadone as a replacement addiction.

Consequences of Methadone Abuse

The science is clear: methadone is an addictive drug with its own consequences. The implications of abuse and addiction are both physical and psychological; they can lead to additional consequences that include loss of income, loss of family relationships, long-term financial problems, introduction to crime, etc.

The negative physical and mental consequences of methadone abuse include:

  • regular drowsiness; interrupted sleep cycles leading to insomnia
  • nausea, vomiting, constipation, loss of appetite
  • mood swings that may include anxiety and depression
  • regular headaches and excessive sweating
  • unexplained weight gain despite loss of appetite
  • water retention and difficulty in urinating
  • irregular heartbeat
  • difficulty breathing
  • confusion, poor decision-making.

If a person is addicted to methadone, he or she will exhibit withdrawal symptoms as the effects of the drug wear off. If significant periods of time lapse between doses, the withdrawal symptoms can be rather severe. Those symptoms include:

  • nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea
  • a feeling of light-headedness
  • dilation of the pupils
  • depression, anxiety, and nervousness
  • various aches and pains
  • uncontrollable tremors
  • excessive sweating
  • strong

Proponents of using methadone as a treatment for narcotic addiction point to the fact that the drug can help relieve the withdrawal symptoms of other drugs like heroin. But because methadone has its own withdrawal symptoms to deal with, the addict will eventually have to face them one way or the other.

Withdrawal symptoms associated with methadone use are strongest within 24 to 72 hours of the last use of the drug. These can last up to a week in the most severe cases of addiction. Some people do experience long-term cravings and other side effects for months after methadone use has ceased.

Long-Term Methadone Addiction

Even though methadone is a synthetic opioid, long-term use does result in some of the same kinds of consequences associated with other opioids and narcotics. For example, continual methadone use over extended periods of time can lead to certain kinds of heart problems. The drug has also been linked to impaired judgement that could end up being permanent in some cases.

Perhaps the most serious long-term adverse effects associated with methadone is a carelessness with the drug that may lead to mixing it with alcohol, benzodiazepines, and other drugs. Why is this a problem? Because drug interaction could result in death. Thousands of people in Europe and North America die every year as a result of using other drugs while also taking methadone, either recreationally or as a prescription medication.

Of course, one cannot discount the social effects of methadone use either. Drug abuse of every kind leads to social isolation because addicts gradually lose the inability to interact according to social norms. Methadone addicts eventually reach the place of complete isolation. Family members cannot tolerate them; friends do not want to be around them; co-workers must avoid them if they are going to continue to be productive themselves.

The Social Impacts of Methadone

There is an ongoing debate within the UK over whether the government should continue treating heroin addiction with methadone prescriptions. While the government spend billions on the drug and benefit payments to users, critics of the strategy maintain that methadone is not working as a maintenance drug to get people off heroin. To say that methadone has had a measurable social impact since its introduction in Europe is to understate the obvious.

Methadone has unfortunately become a socially acceptable drug because of its association with doctor prescriptions. But just because the drug is prescribed as a painkiller or a maintenance drug to help with heroin withdrawal does not make methadone harmless or worth taking a risk on.

It has been our experience that not understanding the risks associated with methadone make it far too easy for users to become addicted. Much of the carelessness could be a direct result of the drug being handed out through prescriptions in such significant volumes. If you are using methadone yourself, please understand that this drug is just as harmful as any other opioid you might take.

Methadone Treatment and Recovery

Methadone is a drug that creates both psychological and physical dependence. Therefore, anyone addicted to the drug will have to undergo a thorough treatment programme to be rid of it. Treatment begins with a 7-to-10-day detox period during which the user is medically monitored and supported to alleviate withdrawal symptoms as much is possible. Psychotherapeutic treatments follow detox.

Rehab clinics and outpatient programmes use a variety of talking therapies to help patients understand the psychological and emotional aspects of addiction. Counsellors help patients work through their issues so they can learn to avoid future drug use. Throughout psychotherapy, full support is offered for emotional, psychological, and family needs.

Methadone treatment is available throughout the UK to anyone who needs it. If you are abusing methadone yourself, one option is to contact your GP to schedule an exam and consultation. But be advised that GPs have neither the time nor experience to effectively help you deal with your problem. A better bet is to contact us via our 24-hour helpline so that we can refer you to a treatment provider with experience in treating methadone addiction.

Our service is designed to help clients come to terms with the seriousness of their abuse or addiction problem for the purposes of finding appropriate treatment. We offer professional assessments performed by trained counsellors who follow a proven, step-by-step method of evaluating. We also provide every client with the opportunity to choose the most appropriate treatment from a list of available facilities. Clients ultimately choose when and where they will receive treatment.

Methadone is an addictive drug we have inadvertently invited into our culture. Now that it’s here, we must do everything we can to help those addicted to it. If you or a family member are struggling with methadone, please do not hesitate any longer. Contact us so that we can help you find the treatment you or your loved one needs.