Methadone Addiction Help-Line

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Methadone vs. Heroin

There are differences between Heroin and Methadone, but the one similarity that is indisputable is that they are both highly addictive and extremely potent opiates. Both of them are derived from a substance that comes from the process of milking the underdeveloped seed of the poppy plant. The main reason that methadone is prescribed is to alleviate heroin withdrawal symptoms. While methadone has been in use for over 50 years, the fact remains that is it an opiate, which makes the use of the drug potentially hazardous. Because most people use heroin and methadone for long periods and develop a tolerance for them, these individuals can easily become addicted to either of the drugs. The characteristics of heroin and methadone vary greatly.  One of the main differences is that Heroin withdrawal usually lasts for 7-10 days and Methadone addicts can experience withdrawal symptoms for 4-6 weeks. It is reported that up to 40 percent of heroin addicts suffer mainly from psychological addiction. On the other hand, almost 90 percent of methadone addicts are both physically and psychologically dependent on the drug.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC), heroin addictions are easy to manage in comparison to the extremely hard to treat methadone addiction.

Methadone mimics many of the effects of heroin and other opiates; however there are many differences between the two drugs. One example of this is that heroin produces an immediate "rush" and euphoria that lasts for a very brief period of time, resulting in a craving to use more heroin, as compared to the gradual onset of methadone when it is administered orally.  The effects of methadone can last up to 36 hours, which allows the individual to take the drug once a day, usually without experiencing many withdrawal symptoms. Research has demonstrated that, when methadone is taken in regular doses as is the case when an individual is receiving treatment in a Methadone Maintenance Program, that if they consume heroin, they will not experience the euphoric high that generally accompanies the use of the drug. Although Methadone has played a major role in the treatment of heroin addiction, it is not always being utilized in this manner. Methadone has addictive properties and also has a high potential for abuse on the street. When Methadone Maintenance Treatment became popular in 1960, soon after, the drug gained notoriety in the illicit market; this was primarily as a result of patients in Methadone Maintenance Programs selling their prescriptions on the street, often to make money so they could support their heroin habit.

Heroin is known for creating a "euphoric high" and methadone does not deliver this type of instant "buzz".  When an individual is taking methadone as prescribed, these individuals are often able to tackle some of the components of their heroin addiction. The person may at least be able to confront the psychological aspects of their addiction, where as they could not do this if they were taking heroin, because of the often intense cravings. Because methadone helps to alleviate heroin withdrawal symptoms, the individual is often able to use this period of not chasing the drug to somewhat stabilize their lifestyle. In a perfect world, it is as this point that the methadone dose can be slowly reduced until the individuals is eventually off of the drug completely. Unfortunately, it is more common for an individual to use methadone for several years, and many of these people may be using the drug for the rest of their lives. When Methadone is used specifically to alleviate heroin withdrawal symptoms, it has been successful in that the 'cold turkey' symptoms that are usually associated in withdrawing from heroin are must less severe.

Even though there are distinct differences in the effects of these two drugs, they are both opiates. The main premise of Methadone Maintenance Treatment is that when it is introduced into the system, the individual will not want heroin that drastically, which can be beneficial in the heroin detoxification process. Opponents of Methadone Maintenance Treatment strictly see this process as a legal drug swap.  In comparison, the urge for heroin is much more frequent than when an individual is addicted to methadone, although drug cravings will eventually result in the absence of both of these opiates, in the case of an individual that is suffering from an addiction. One of the main cons in methadone use is that this drug, like heroin, is a habit forming drug in itself. A majority of the time an individual that is taking methadone will lose their urge for heroin but will become hooked on methadone, instead. When this occurs, just as is the case in an addiction to heroin, it will be difficult to get the individual out of the methadone dependency, and around and around they go.  To avoid any drastic side effects, the physician at the methadone treatment center will have to devise a carefully planned schedule to reduce the amount of the drug that the individual takes in order to eventually be able to be able to phase out of the Methadone Maintenance Treatment program. Many individuals who have been on both opiates, heroin and methadone, have openly stated that if they knew then what they know now, they would have made the choice to go though the arduous heroin detox in the beginning instead of just trading one addiction for another. In comparison to heroin, methadone more commonly reacts with other prescription drugs that the individual may be taking, and sometimes these reactions can be fatal. Because of this, it is highly recommended that an individual using methadone as part of a maintenance program be constantly supervised when on the drug. Most methadone centers are not able to provide such close supervision on an outpatient basis. 

Although there are many differences between heroin and methadone, there are very few differences in the characteristics of all drug addictions.  The one similar fact in regard to any type of addiction is that, regardless of the chemical substance that is involved, the addiction should be treated without delay.

Methadone Facts

  • Those who are on methadone programs or have a prescription for methadone pills quickly find the bills adding up.
  • Russia is very different from the U.S. regarding methadone addiction treatment. Methadone treatment for addiction is not only illegal, just promoting it, just talking about methadone maintenance favorably, is prosecutable under the law. In Russia, narcotic addicts receive narcotic detox and rehab.
  • Because Methadone is a synthetic opiate it has the same characteristics as other drugs in this class and is used to replace other medications such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, and Heroin.
  • In methadone treatment dosage depends on the patient's tolerance levels and must be carefully assessed to avoid negative and adverse side effects.
  • There are those who abuse their outpatient methadone maintenance program. Those who take less than a blocking dose (80 milligrams) will be able to "feel it" if they combine their methadone dose with other opiate drugs.
  • Because of its potency as a pain killer, the DEA has allowed physicians to prescribe it for pain control.
  • When pregnant women use methadone the fetus is also exposed to the drug. As a result, the baby is commonly born with a methadone addiction along with changes for numerous other birth defects.
  • Methadone is a (synthetic opiate) narcotic that when administered once a day, orally, in adequate doses, can usually suppress a heroin addict's craving and withdrawal for 24 hours.
  • There are inpatient and outpatient programs for methadone addiction treatment. Knowing which one is right for the person with the problem is important. They cannot get the right help if they are in the wrong program. Knowing the differences between inpatient and outpatient is important. Knowing the pros and cons of each will help you find the right program for the person in need of help.
  • There are different types of recovery programs for those with a methadone addiction. It is important to find the right program. Not every program is right for every person. When you find the right program, you will have a better success rate of not relapsing, which is what family members want, and hopefully the person with the dependency problem.
  • There are now 115,000 Methadone maintenance patients in the United States, 40,000 of which are in New York State and about half that many are in California.
  • You can't be as sure with Methadone that's bought on the street which may be an unusually concentrated variant and more powerful than expected.
  • A person who has been using methadone regularly (prescribed or not) will experience withdrawal once they stop taking the drug. The physical changes caused by methadone are similar to other opiates (like heroin) and may include a suppressed cough reflex, contracted pupils, drowsiness, and constipation.