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A History of Methadone

Methadone PillsMethadone is a synthetic pain reliever that is most often associated with heroin addiction treatment. In addition to being used as a treatment method, methadone can also be used as a pain reliever and is similar in its effects to morphine and other narcotics. Methadone has a slow onset which is supposed to help prevent users from experiencing the effects of “getting high.” While methadone is used for pain relief, and in the treatment of heroin addiction, some people do abuse the drug illegally due to it being highly addictive. Methadone was first produced in the mid-1900s while research was being done to develop a pain relieving drug other than morphine.

In the 1930s, the chemical structure of methadone was produced by German scientists. The production of methadone happened as the scientists were trying to develop a pain reliever with less addictive properties than morphine. Gustav Ehrhart and Max Bockmhl first developed a synthetic substance in 1937 called polamidon, or Hoechst 10820. Later, during World War II, the research of Bockmhl and Ehrhart was expanded upon when German scientists synthesized the original medicine due to a shortage of morphine. By the time the war ended, the US had managed to obtain the rights to what is now known as methadone. The drug was first introduced in the US in 1947 and was marketed as a pain relieving medicine that could be used to treat a variety of conditions; eventually leading to the belief that the medicine was useful in treating addiction to narcotics. It was not, however, until the 1960s that scientific advancements began to be made with methadone. In the early 1970s, methadone treatments began to expand and the government set in place regulations that would govern the use of the drug for addiction treatment. In 2001, additional regulations were put in place and existing regulations were modified in regards to providing methadone in a more controlled manner.

Methadone can be provided in a number of different manners but is generally dispensed in oral form. Oral forms of the drug include powder, tablets, and liquid. While some believe methadone can be helpful in the treatment of heroin addiction, it can also cause negative side effects. Short term side effects of use can include nausea, itchy skin, sweating, vomiting, and restlessness. Long term use of methadone can cause respiration and lung issues.

Programs that utilize methadone to treat heroin addiction are referred to as methadone maintenance programs. These programs are common due to the simplicity of treatment and have been shown limited effectiveness through various studies. The purpose of the methadone maintenance program is to help addicts avoid heroin withdrawal symptoms that can sometimes be severe. Studies have shown that these maintenance programs can be effective in reducing deaths, spread of diseases, addicts’ involvement in crime, and more. While methadone can have some success, the problem with it is the majority of the users become addicted to methadone; merely swapping one addiction for another with its own serious withdrawal symptoms. Users can develop a tolerance to methadone which requires increased dosages over time.

In addition to methadone, there are a couple of other powerful narcotics that are used in treatment. These include bupernorphine and LAAM. Bupernorphine is a synthetic drug that is at least 30 times more potent than morphine and was first developed in the 1970s. LAAM is L-alpha-acetyl-methadol and is used in place of methadone. The effects of LAAM last longer than methadone, requiring less visits to a maintenance program to receive the drug. LAAM is considered like methadone to carry its own set of warnings and concerns of use. Overall, methadone remains one of the most common ways of treating heroin addiction in the United States as a drug replacement protocol – which should not be confused with drug rehabilitation.

To learn more about the history of methadone, effects, forms, and other information, consult the resources listed below.

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