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Treatment of Heroin with Methadone vs. without Drugs

There has been much talk in the past about the best way to help addicts come clean from heroin, with some people arguing for the use of drugs like methadone to treat patients, and other people holding firm to the idea that you can’t successfully treat a drug addiction with a drug.

Unfortunately, there is not enough evidence to conclude that either way is better.  Numbers do show that the use of methadone is successful in getting patients to give up heroin, but then the patient does not really end up being drug-free because they are addicted to the methadone.

History of Heroin
Heroin has been around for a long time, and is currently grown around the world, with large supplies in the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America.  The drug had been a problem in the United States for decades, but the Nixon administration actively tried to diminish supplies of heroin when he declared a war on drugs in the 1970’s.  It was during this time that methadone maintenance treatments came to light, and experiments were done to measure its effectiveness.  However, incomplete data recording, complex situations of treatment, and inconclusive evidence have all aided in the differing of opinions that we have today.

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Heroin Withdrawal
What we do know is that heroin is a hard drug to beat.  The addict’s body quickly becomes so dependent on the substance that to go without it would mean a severe withdrawal.  Nausea, vomiting, pain, sweating, fatigue, depression and insomnia are what an addict goes through when trying to quit.  But, if a patient is put on methadone when stopping the heroin, the symptoms are not nearly as bad.  The patient will need to work to withdraw from the methadone, but that can often happen over weeks or months.

Another thing we know is that addicts that are required to quit heroin without the use of medication are less likely to stay in treatment than those that are assisted by drugs such as methadone.  Perhaps it gets to be too big of a task before them to be rid of drugs completely, but whatever the reason, more heroin users will stay in treatment if it involves using methadone or another medication.

Methadone Treatment Facilities
Many drug treatment facilities have built their programs around these pieces of information.  By using medications such as methadone, physicians are able to ease the withdrawal symptoms and to keep the addict in treatment.  Facilities may not be able to come up with statistics that say their patients have completed their program and are clean and drug-free, but that they are heroin-free.  According to many, this is a better alternative.  Many facilities work to help their patients become responsible members of society, by keeping a job or taking care of their family, something heroin addicts find almost impossible.  For those patients that require the use of methadone to achieve those goals, the benefit of living a normal life is worth it.

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