Methadone: Prescription Drug Abuse & Testing
Methadone is a synthetic narcotic drug similar to morphine but less habit-forming than that. It is frequently used in narcotic detoxification and heroin addiction rehab. It is available by its trade name Dolophine which actually comes from the German word Dolphium that reflects its German Origin as Methadone was developed in Germany in 1937.
For around 30 years this synthetic narcotic drug has been used to treat opioid addiction, specifically heroin & morphine addiction. It is frequently administered orally. A large number of patients require around 80-120 mg/dl of methadone, or even more, to achieve desired effects. However, most of the clinics typically start patients at a lower dose. Taken once, methadone may suppress the narcotic urge for around 24 to 36 hours, of course, on a case specific basis.
Effects of Methadone – Use & Abuse:
The principal effects of methadone use are to relieve opioid craving, suppress the abstinence cravings, and block the euphoric effects associated with heroin. Heroin results in the release of an excess of dopamine neurotransmitter in the body which causes an urge to consume opiate continuously which can keep the opioid receptors in the brain occupied. Methadone occupies this receptor and suppresses that urge to consume heroin. This permits heroine addicts to change their behavior and to discontinue heroin use. Methadone maintenance has been found to be medically safe and non- tranquilizing. It is also indicated for pregnant women addicted to heroin.
Although Methadone reduces the cravings associated with heroin use and suppresses the urge to consume heroin, but it does not provide the same euphoria that heroin does. Consequently, the patient remains physically dependent on the Methadone or any opioid for that matter, but is freed from the uncontrolled, compulsive, and disruptive behavior seen in heroin addicts. So, a majority of patients may require Methadone maintenance for an indefinite period of time, since methadone maintenance is a corrective but not a curative treatment for opiate addiction.
As compared to narcotics like heroin, morphine, hydrocodone, Oxycodone etc., methadone has been found to be much safer when used as directed by physician. If properly used, it has not been found to harm any of the body’s vital organs viz. brain, liver, lungs, kidneys etc. even after long term usage. Some patients experience minor symptoms such as constipation, water retention, drowsiness, skin rash, excessive sweating, and changes in libido.
However, If not used properly or when abused, Methadone can cause slow or shallow breathing and dangerous changes in heart beat that may not be felt by the patient. Methadone has also been infrequently reported to cause cardiac conduction problems although very few fatalities have been documented due to this. Sadly, abuse of Methadone is increasing rapidly owing to its long-slow-releasing properties and much due to its low cost. A month’s supply of methadone typically costs around $50 in the United States, compared to many hundreds of dollars for other opioids. This makes it a substance with high abuse potential.
Laboratory testing for Methadone or any of its unique known metabolites may be done by antibody based screening like ELISA. Liquid Chromatography may be performed where TLC may help in low cost preliminary analysis. A MS/GC approach may also prove helpful for further validation purposes. Needless to say, all these tests may be done either on blood samples or urine samples or even on hair follicle samples. However, for periodic monitoring purposes many rapid screening kits are available commercially for home use.