Methadone for Pain Relief

Most people who hear the word "methadone" probably associate it with addiction treatment, but this opiate medication also provides effective pain relief to people who are suffering from severe chronic pain. Methadone is also being used in with increasing frequency as an affordable, long-lasting, and potent analgesic for people who are not getting required levels of pain relief from other medications.

If I Use Methadone for Pain, Will I Get Addicted?

People often feel apprehensive about using methadone for the treatment of chronic pain, because they associate the medication with drug abuse and worry about their own risks of addiction.

Methadone can be abused, and when taken in higher-than-indicated dosages, it will produce an opiate high. People who abuse methadone are at great risk of addiction. However, people who take the medication as prescribed for legitimate pain relief will not likely feel much euphoria, and will not become addicted to the medication.

Also, it is important to understand that addiction is not the same thing as dependency. Addiction refers to the compulsive use of a drug for its intoxicating properties; dependency refers to the body's need for the continuous use of a substance to avoid symptoms of withdrawal.

Anyone who uses methadone regularly will become physically dependent, and will experience withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of use. Methadone withdrawal symptoms are quite severe, and this is one reason why the medication is only indicated for the long-term treatment of pain.

If you use methadone as directed for its analgesic effects, you have no need to worry about addiction, but you will become dependent on the drug and you won’t be able to stop taking it without experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

The Risks of Pain Treatment with Methadone

In 2004, almost 4,000 people in America died after taking methadone (though the vast majority of these deaths involved people who were using methadone for illicit or recreational purposes without medical supervision).

Methadone is an extremely strong medication with potent respiratory depressive effects at high doses. While the analgesic effects of methadone last between four and eight hours, the drug's elimination half-life is far longer, and varies greatly among users. The risks of adverse drug effects are greatest during the first two weeks of methadone treatment, when dosing amounts are still being adjusted to optimal safe levels.

Methadone use is almost never advised for brief periods of pain relief, as patients who use methadone will develop a powerful physical dependency on the medication. Methadone is most commonly prescribed for chronic pain, cancer pain, or palliative pain.

Methadone can be abused, and the dangers of the medication increase exponentially when it is consumed with other opiates or benzodiazepines.

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