Can fentanyl addiction and heroin addiction be treated by a methadone program?
Most people are familiar with heroin, the powerful street drug derived from the opium poppy, even if they have never tried the drug and don’t personally know anyone who has. It is commonly injected, smoked or snorted for its euphoric and sedating effects; you probably already know that as the user develops a tolerance for heroin, ever-greater amounts are needed to achieve a high or even to stave off serious withdrawal symptoms. Famous celebrities such as Philip Seymour Hoffman, River Phoenix and Janis Joplin have died of overdosing on this potent, illicit substance.
Among the general public, less seems to be known about fentanyl – even though its abuse is reaching serious proportions. The drug is an opioid narcotic, far more powerful than morphine, that is used to control chronic pain and as an anesthetic in hospital procedures. Unfortunately, the drug is also being abused with increasing frequency because of its availability as an outpatient treatment for people who have suffered injuries, illness or surgery. It is supposed to be absorbed through the skin as a patch or taken orally in lozenge form, but addicts and thrill seekers are able to extract the painkiller from the patch and smoke, chew, snort or inject it for its euphoric, pleasurable high.
Effects of fentanyl
In the short term, besides the feeling of ‘well-being’ experienced by users, fentanyl also has a number of unpleasant side effects including nausea, constipation and skin rashes. In larger doses, it can cause depressed breathing, low blood pressure, seizures, and death. For most habitual users, the trouble starts with severe withdrawal symptoms when the drug is stopped; but addicts who are mixing fentanyl with heroin, which is a common way to use the drug, might never even get the chance to stop, because the mixture makes them more prone to overdose and potentially fatal complications.
While heroin addiction is stigmatized, fentanyl abuse is a bit more confusing, because after all, fentanyl is a doctor-prescribed medication.
Methadone can treat fentanyl addiction as well as heroin addiction
When a patient identifies that her or she has a problem with fentanyl addiction and wants to stop, there are various courses of treatment that are commonly recommended. Below is a simple outline of the steps someone can take to break their fentanyl habit.
Stop any more of the drug from entering the system
In the case of overdose, administer narcotic antidote, and call emergency services
Slowly decrease the dosage of fentanyl under a doctor’s care over the course of time OR
Go to a detox centre (various types of detoxes exist) to withdraw more safely and rapidly AND
Avoid painful withdrawal symptoms by entering a methadone drug treatment program in conjunction with other treatment.
The methadone treatment program is considered one of the most effective methods of treating opiate addiction including fentanyl addiction. Part of the reason methadone treatment is so effective for people with opiate addictions is that within a few hours of missing a dose of fentanyl, the addict will begin to go into acute withdrawal symptoms, making the temptation to use again almost irresistible. If the patient cannot obtain any more fentanyl, heroin or other opiates, their body will experience withdrawal symptoms ranging from vomiting to diarrhea to debilitating pain.
Addicts on higher doses of opiates simply cannot detox without some form of substitute or chemical treatment, as the physical effects of withdrawal can be severe and the mental withdrawal effects can last months to years. Methadone can provide a safer substitute for the heroin or fentanyl by essentially tricking the body into believing that the painkiller is still present. That allows the patient to stop using the fentanyl or the heroin immediately and get on with the business of healing the underlying causes of their addiction.