Many people go from being addicted to heroin to acquiring a methadone addiction, and continue with this "treatment" for years, fearing the withdrawal that will occur when they stop. Methadone does not have to be the way of life for former heroin addicts. Gradual cessation followed by a drug-free program of rehabilitation may be the answer for many sufferers.
Critics point out that methadone patients are still addicts and that methadone therapy does not help addicts with their personality problems. In many cases multiple drug use and a strong psychological dependence undermine the gains made. Some addicts manage to resell the methadone they receive in order to buy heroin; this and other illegal diversion have resulted in methadone joining the group of addictive drugs sold on the street.
Fraudulently acquiring methadone is becoming common practice among many individuals
with drug addictions. Addiction to methadone can take several forms:
- conning a doctor into prescribing a higher dosage than is required
- taking more than the recommended dosage
- taking methadone in combination with other drugs, including alcohol
- using methadone as a 'top up' drug while continuing to take heroin
- selling prescribed methadone in order to buy heroin
In blind trials, users who were given both drugs orally were unable to distinguish between the effects heroin and methadone. An added problem for those using methadone to recover from heroin addiction is withdrawal. Withdrawal from heroin should be over after seven to ten days. Withdrawal from methadone though, can take up to a month or even longer.
Ironically, methadone used to control narcotic addiction is frequently encountered on the illicit market and has been associated with a number of overdose deaths. Tolerance and addiction to methadone is a dangerous threat, as withdrawal results from the cessation of use. Many former heroin users have claimed that the horrors of heroin withdrawal were far less painful and difficult than withdrawal from methadone.
A serious problem with much of the methadone prescription in the past was that heroin addicts were often given sufficient methadone to last one week - or even one month. As a result, addicts commonly sold their prescribed methadone in the illicit drug market. Schoolchildren have been found in possession of this drug and several have died. It is more common practice today to require addicts on methadone maintenance programs to collect their prescription from a clinic or pharmacy daily - and to swallow this under observation. This is to prevent methadone from entering the illicit market.