Life After Successful Methadone Detox Is Like Getting Out Of Prison

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Published: 04th March 2009
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Giving someone a methadone addiction is like putting that person in a prison where they are not confined by walls but by their dependence on the drug, says a detox expert, and getting off the drug is like getting out of jail.

Using the highly-addictive drug methadone as a replacement for heroin addiction is common across the US, where thousands of addicts rely on government-subsidized methadone clinics to help stave off their craving for heroin. The upside is said to be reduced drug-related crime and needle-sharing illnesses, but the downside, say many addiction experts, is when methadone addicts try to get drug-free and find methadone detox a far bigger problem than detoxing from the original heroin.

For more than 40 years, methadone has been used as a substitute-drug "treatment" for addiction to heroin and other narcotics. However, trading one addiction for another drug, especially one which is even more difficult to stop taking, is worse than no treatment at all.

"For most people, the methadone 'solution' is really not a solution at all, but a trap every bit as terrible as heroin or OxyContin addiction," says Steven Hayes, clinical director of Novus Medical Detox in Pasco County, FL. "Putting people on methadone is like putting them in a prison where they are not confined by walls, but by their dependence on the drug. And getting off methadone is like getting out of jail."

People who believe methadone addiction is an acceptable way of dealing with heroin, OxyContin or other opioid addiction have no understanding of what life on methadone is really like, Mr. Hayes said. While many people might forget to take their medicine and suffer no ill effects, not getting a timely methadone dose can produce painful withdrawal symptoms.

Life As A Methadone Addict

Here are some of the gruesome aspects of life on methadone "treatment":

Get up early to drive, taxi, bike, hitchhike or even walk to a methadone clinic, often in a less desirable part of town, or not even in your town;

Stand in line with strangers, some wearing business suits and others who haven't bathed in weeks;

Deal with family upsets because vacations are a thing of the past -- you can't even take a few days off to go camping or take the kids to Disneyland, and fumble for excuses about why you can't join friends for a weekend away;

Struggle progressively with less and less energy, trouble getting any restful sleep no matter how long you stay in bed, and nodding off during the day;

Suffer the embarrassment of forgetting the names of people you have known for years;

Watch hopelessly as find yourself less and less able to concentrate on anything, and your job performance starts to slip;

Regret how you look much older than friends of the same age;

Worry as your libido wanes, and if you're a man, how Viagra doesn't help;

Methadone doesn't get you high, but you sometimes get sick even with methadone;

Try benzodiazepines or a drink to get a "buzz", which can cause a potentially fatal overdose;

Often feel 'scooped out' or 'hollow' inside;

Catch frequent colds and flu, and stay sick longer than others;

Even though you're getting flabby, you just can't get into exercising;

Worry about being too sick to drive to get your dose, or your car might break down, or you might have an accident, or a traffic cop stops you -- anything that could make you miss your methadone appointment;

Worry about being accidents that could leave you unconscious and going through a hideous methadone withdrawal in a hospital;

Worry as you see signs that your significant other wants to terminate the relationship -- it's all too weird or difficult for them to deal with;

Worry because only people on methadone or other drugs -- or who've been there --know what's really going on with you;

Worry when you realize you're paying $75-$100 a week to feel this rotten, and wonder when or if it will ever end;

Decide that maybe the only escape from methadone addiction is to just die.

The solution, of course, is a medically supervised methadone detox that helps set you up for a lengthy, successful drug rehab and a recovered drug free life.

"Unfortunately, methadone detox at high dosages is not even offered by most rehab centers and detox clinics," Mr. Hayes said. "Most methadone addicts wanting off the drug have already tried to taper off on their own, but failed. And because most detox facilities are unwilling to accept them, they've decided there is no way to withdraw from methadone because of the pain."

A few drug detox facilities have developed protocols that accept high-dose methadone detox. To recover from methadone addiction, Mr. Hayes advises, don't give up the search for a clinic that will accept you, and help you get out of the methadone prison.

Rod MacTaggart is a freelance writer that contributes articles on health.

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