Understanding the Dangers of Methadone Abuse

Methadone abuse is a very serious problem with epidemic rises in overdoses and deaths in America gaining more momentum year after year.

Methadone Uses for Opiate Addiction Treatment

Methadone is a long acting synthetic opiate that works very similar to short acting opiates such as morphine or heroin. It is intended to be taken orally and in adequate doses, it can relieve cravings and withdrawals for an average of 24 -36 hours in an opiate dependent person without causing euphoria, cognitive impairments, or other unwanted side effects unless it is abused.

In the treatment of opiate addictions, methadone can be used to help the person detox or to maintain steady social functioning, improve health, and reduce behaviors and consequences of opiate dependence. It actually blocks the effects of other opioids to deter their abuse and prevent the urges to relapse, but, like other opiates, methadone can be highly abusive and addictive.

Methadone Uses for Pain

methadone dangers

Abuse of methadone is dangerous. It’s important to take the medication as prescribed.

Methadone’s popularity among abusers increased as more doctors began prescribing methadone for somewhat less than its intended purposes of treating severe or chronic pain. It should not be taken more than once per day unless otherwise prescribed and should not be used for used for mild, acute, or “breakthrough” pain, or on an as-needed basis, and never with other central nervous system depressants.

Starting recommended dosages should be at the lowest possible with the 1st week of use being the most critical and frequently monitored to maintain an element of safety. While methadone is powerful in suppressing pain, it can dangerously suppress breathing, cause major disturbances in cardiac rhythm, and has an unpredictable half-life that can build up in the person’s system leading to overdose, coma, and death.

According to the 2008 Drug Threat Assessment from the National Drug Intelligence Center, “the increase in methadone-related deaths appears to correspond closely with the increase in legitimate disbursements.”

Dangers of Abusing Methadone with Other Substances

Methadone should not be abused by taking it with other central nervous system depressants including benzodiazepines, alcohol, sedatives, antihistamines, muscle relaxers, or other opioids because these type of drugs compound the depressing effects on the central nervous system. This can cause dangerous respiratory failure, cardiac failure, coma, overdose, or death.

Methadone may also interact with diuretics, antibiotics, HV medications, blood pressure medications, MAOI inhibitors, seizure medications, and certain herbal teas causing other serious health complications. Methadone has a long half-life and may remain active although the person no longer feels the effects, so taking these medications within several days of methadone use can still be dangerous.

Dangers of Abusing Methadone without A Prescription

Studies show that most methadone overdoses involve individuals who are not in any type of opioid treatment therapy and have not been prescribed methadone for any pain issues. These individuals are most likely to be unaware of the ways that methadone works, how efficiently they will metabolism the methadone, and its potential dangers to their health.

The abuser may assume that methadone works like other opioids and when the desired effects are not immediately felt or become diminished, it may seem obvious to them to repeat or increase the dose. While it may appear that the methadone is not working, it is in fact, metabolized at various rates in individuals and actively stored in the liver and bloodstream until it can be used.

In a person with a normal rate of metabolism, methadone remains actively stored for up to 24 to 36 hours, but, everyone is different and abusers often end up overdosing from taking too much, too frequently.

Dangers of Taking Too Much Methadone

There is no way of predicting all of the dangers of methadone abuse and according to the 2012 report from the Drug Abuse Warning Network, “The number of methadone-related emergency department (ED) visits involving nonmedical use rose 71 percent between 2004 and 2009 (from 36,806 to 63,031 visits).” Beyond overdoses, methadone abuse can be dangerous when:

  • Compromised health slows down the metabolism rate and increases the overdose poisoning risks from methadone buildup in the system.
  • Abusers lose consciousness and aspirate on their spittle or vomit.
  • Abusers develop kidney or urinary problems including acute renal failure, decreased urine output, or rhabdomyolysis which is the breakdown of muscle tissue and the release of harmful muscle fiber contents into the blood which are harmful to the kidney.
  • Abusers experience visual disturbances including blurred vision, double vision, tunnel vision, or loss of vision.
  • Mental functioning is dramatically decreased and abusers are at risk of consequential dangers to themselves or others such as trying to drive or operate heavy machinery.
  • Abusers suffer cardiac arrhythmias or very slow heart rate which can decrease the flow of oxygen through the brain and rest of the body leading to multiple risks of organ and tissue damages, seizures, and sudden cardiac arrest.
  • Repeat abuse leads to dependence and withdrawals.

Dangers of Abusing Methadone in Ways Other Than Intended

Methadone is an oral medication that works its best when it is taken once a day in steady continuous doses. Taking methadone more frequently will cause a higher degree of dependence with little therapeutic value increase.

Methadone dependence results in withdrawals that, many say, are worse than any other opiate including heroin. Abusing methadone while pregnant will lead to neonatal withdrawals in the infant.

Injecting methadone intravenously is an abuse method that many opioid addicts are not interested in, but, some abusers may randomly attempt this method at the risks of overdose and sudden death.

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