DURHAM, N.C. (BP)–Powerful narcotics such as heroin, Oxycontin and hydrocodone often transform users into addicts and provide them with excruciating withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to discontinue their relationships with these drugs.
While it is possible for addicted persons to overcome opiate addiction by mere cessation, it is also very painful. Due to the extreme nature of heroin and opiate withdrawal, pharmacologists have recommended that addicts use another drug, methadone, to try and treat withdrawal and dependence.
Methadone treatment is, in effect, the substitution of one drug for another.
Supporters of methadone treatment say the drug, which is taken orally, reduces the risk of HIV and hepatitis transmission, since addicts are no longer on heroin, which is taken intravenously. Supporters also say methadone treatment reduces crime. Heroine use often is associated with criminal activity.
It is supposed that those who receive daily doses of methadone are less likely to place themselves and others at risk of contracting diseases such as HIV and hepatitis, which can be spread by sharing contaminated needles. It is further supposed that those who undergo methadone treatment will be less likely to commit crimes such as larceny and prostitution in order to have the money to buy heroin, which is significantly more expensive than methadone.
We have been unable to determine whether the prevention of disease transmission is affected positively by methadone treatment, although we recognize the logic behind the supposition. Crime statistics do seem to favor the treatment. It has been reported that the number of crimes committed by those undergoing methadone treatment tends to drop significantly. However, these statistics depend largely upon information contributed by addicts about their own behavior.
It is difficult for us to imagine a drug-addicted thief as a credible source of potentially self-incriminating information.
Discussions about methadone treatment have tended to focus primarily on its substitution for heroin. But in recent years, addictions to prescribed pain-medications such as the now infamous hydrocodone and Oxycontin have grown by as much as 450 percent, challenging to overtake heroin as the most abused narcotic.
In light of current trends in drug-abuse, it may be necessary to reevaluate the heretofore touted advantages of methadone treatment, as they have largely failed to include imbibers of legal, prescribed medications among those on methadone maintenance programs. In some areas, prescription drug-abusers constitute a majority of some methadone clinics’ clientele.
Clearly, the hazards of intravenous heroin use are not identical to those of prescription pill abuse. So, a projected reduction in the numbers of disease transmissions through shared syringes and prostitution may not be as relevant in some cases.
Regardless of what advantages may or may not be attributable to methadone maintenance, dependence upon methadone is assured for those who take it. Most endure several years of treatment. Many never fully withdraw.
It is important to understand that the withdrawal symptoms of methadone, while less severe than those of some other opiates, are more prolonged. Because of this, some heroin addicts report that detoxification from methadone is more difficult than detox from heroin.
Not surprisingly, we have found some methadone clinics to be unamenable to helping their clients achieve release from addiction to the narcotic, further complicating successful detoxification of patients. The bartender never likes to see his customers quit drinking.
It is impossible to avoid the agony associated with withdrawal from narcotics. At best, methadone prolongs and delays the inevitable pain of withdrawal.
For this reason, our advice to those facing the decision of whether or not to begin a methadone program remains: “When it comes to methadone, metha-don’t.”
Ted G. Stone and Philip D. Barber share their ministry in church pulpits and through books and articles, such as this monthly column. For further information or advice, contact them through Ted Stone Ministries, P.O. Box 1397, Durham, N.C., 27702, or call (919) 477-1581.