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Methadone – solution or problem?

Originally posted on Tuesday, February 6, 2007

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, there are approximately 136,000 current heroin users in the United States. This number has remained relatively even over the last four years.

Heroin addicts who want help will try just about anything to stop. Often, after attempting traditional counseling methods and relapsing, heroin addicts will try a drug replacement therapy such as methadone.

Methadone is a powerful synthetic narcotic that was thought to be useful in getting people off of heroin. While proponents claim it reduces other harm associated with heroin use, methadone abuse on the street has grown as much as the legal clinics.

The 2005 national treatment survey reported that the number and proportion of clients receiving methadone increased from 172,502 (17 percent of all clients) in 2000 to 235,836 in 2005 (22 percent of all clients).

This means that there are nearly 100,000 more people on methadone than using heroin on a regular basis.

Along with the increase in overall users has come an increase in the number of methadone-related deaths. In a few areas, methadone has become the most deadliets drug, such as Utah. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that there were no methadone-related deaths in 1995, but last year there were 113. The overall number of deaths associated with this drug has been rapidly increasing in many states throughout the country.

While a special report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) attributes the increase in deaths to the rise in number of prescriptions for it as a painkiller rather than a substitute for heroin, the amount given to patients has gone up in both categories, and so has the availability on the street.

So Why Use it?

If it’s such a dangerous drug, then why are there so many users? It actually comes down to money and mis-representation.

Some methadone clinics are not-for-profit corporations, but there is a growing trend of for-profit companies expanding their drug-dispensing enterprises. For example, an article in the Charleston Daily Mail says that all of the methadone clinics in West Virginia are for-profit businesses.

One Methadone clinic that is for sale in the southwestern U.S. serving less than 500 clients claims to make at between 500K and 1 million dollars per year between cash business and government reimbursements. That’s just one clinic.

Regardless of whether the clinic is for-profit or not, imagine how much money the drug’s makers receive. 235,000 clients times 365 days times a few dollars per dose, plus chronic pain patients’ prescriptions – equals big money for pharmaceutical companies.

Rehabilitation for Methadone Use

For those addicts wanting to get off methadone, most drug rehabilitation programs can’t take someone who is on too high of a dose of methadone. This can range anywhere from 15-60 milligrams, depending on the facility. The conflict is that an average daily dose of methadone is often well above that. The reason for this is that the withdrawal symptoms from methadone are actually more severe and longer lasting that heroin.

Therefore, addicts have a choice to either slowly wean down their dosage, which might be 5 milligrams per week, or enter a medical detoxification center that can help them do it faster and in a controlled environment. One such facility is Novus Detox near Tampa Bay (www.novusdetox.com).

At Addiction Help Services, we strongly recommend a drug-free program, meaning one that doesn’t use any medications or substitute drugs to help rehabilitate addicts. In the long run, a replacement drug may be a temporary treatment, but it is not helping someone rehabilitate to live a drug-free life.

Article by Eric Mitchell

0 responses to “Methadone – solution or problem?”

  1. Oldude59 says:

    Your concern for those that use methadone is “statically” correct but wrong nonetheless. You know what they say about statistics… I run a for-profit clinic and for us the aim is to ween users off methadone to a point either they can be free of opiates completely or substantially reduced to Buprenorphine.

    The point that I want to get across is that all addictions are a social problem with a few of them getting all the attention.

  2. Romie says:

    Methadone maintenance, and even buprenorphine, for that matter, is still a drug subsitute, and the majority of methadone clients do not get weaned down through a completion of the program.

    Instead, many of their dosages increase due to tolerance.

    Your intention to get them completely off of the drug is good, but our message is that there are effective ways to complete a full, drug-free rehabilitation. Giving drugs to addicts does fall under the medical definition of treatment, however rehabhilitating an addict would mean for them to operate without any drug substitutes.

  3. Cynthia Steele says:

    If we’re going to talk statistics, let’s talk about the several that prove an opiate addict’s “rehabilitation success rate” is lower than two, yes two, percent. So, in a perfect world, all addicts could just trudge through withdrawals, enter a twelve-step program, and lead normal, functional lives, but guess what?! We don’t live in a perfect world, and if Methadone Maintenance can save one person’s life, and enable them to function normally within today’s society, then why not just let it be, and focus your rage elsewhere…..

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