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FAQ About Methadone
methadone & methadone addiction

Where did methadone come from?
How is methadone taken?
What are methadone's adverse reactions?
What are the symptoms of methadone overdose?
What is methadone dependency?
How much do we spend on methadone in the UK?

Where did methadone come from?

MethadoneMethadone Hydrochloride is an opioid (a synthetic opiate) that was originally synthesised by German pharmaceutical companies during the Second World War.

It was first marketed as 'Dolophine' (possibly to honour Adolf Hitler) and was used as an analgesic (a painkiller) for the treatment of severe pain. It is still occasionally used for pain relief.

Methadone is now primarily used today for the treatment of narcotic addiction. The effects of methadone are longer-lasting than those of morphine-based drugs. Methadone's effects can last up to 24 hours, thereby permitting administration only once a day in heroin detoxification and maintenance programs.

How is methadone taken?

Methadone is usually available as a liquid - linctus or methadone mixture - which should be swallowed. Tablets and injectable ampoules are sometimes prescribed, and like many other medicines some of these prescribed drugs are diverted and become available illegally.

What are methadone's adverse reactions?

Deaths occur more frequently at the beginning of treatment in methadone programmes; they are usually a cause of excessive doses (i.e. erroneously estimated tolerance) and they are affected by concomitant diseases (hepatitis, pneumonia). Methadone generally entails the entire spectrum of opioid side effects, including the development of tolerance and physical and psychological dependence. Respiratory depressions are dangerous. The released histamines can cause hypotension or bronchospasms. Other symptoms are: constipation, nausea or vomiting, sedation, vertigo, oedema.

What are the symptoms of methadone overdose?

Body as a whole
- muscle spasticity
Respiratory
- difficulty breathing
- slow, shallow and laboured breathing
- stopped breathing (sometimes fatal within 2-4 hours)
Eyes, ears, nose, and throat
- pinpoint pupils
- bluish skin
- bluish fingernails and lips
Gastrointestinal
- spasms of the stomach and/or intestinal tract
- constipation
Heart and blood vessels
- weak pulse
- low blood pressure
Nervous system
- drowsiness
- disorientation
- coma

What is methadone dependency?

As an opiate, regular use of methadone causes physical dependency - if you've been using it regularly (prescribed or not) once you stop you will experience a withdrawal. The physical changes due to the drug are similar to other opiates (like heroin); suppressed cough reflex, contracted pupils, drowsiness and constipation. Some methadone users feel sick when they first use the drug. If you are a woman using methadone you may not have regular periods - but you are still able to conceive. Methadone is a long-acting opioid; it has an effect for up to 36 hours (if you are using methadone you will not withdraw for this period) and can remain in your body for several days.

How much do we spend on methadone in the UK?

In Iain Duncan Smiths report on addiction published in July 2007 it is stated that "Spending on prescribed methadone has reached £111 million per annum".

His report also states "Methadone, the favoured drug for prescribing, is the unquestioned mainstay of the public health response to drugs treatment in general. The evidence base for its efficacy relates to ‘stabilisation’ measures, to remaining opiate- free for defined periods, and to ‘retention in treatment’ and ending illicit drug use. Our analysis is that methadone does not and cannot have a useful and positive role in the treatment of addiction. But the rapid expansion of its prescription appears to be as much an outcome of political pressure and target driven policy as of a dispassionate clinical response to the treatment needs of a particularly vulnerable population. We have found the current mass prescription of methadone to be the cause of deep disquiet amongst drugs workers and addicts alike."

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