A History of Methadone

Almost everyone has heard about methadone. Developed in 1939 in Germany, it was brought to the United States by Eli Lilly in 1947 as Dolophine. Dolophine was derived from the Latin word dolor (pain) and finis (end). Later Dolophine came to be known as methadone.

Originally marketed as a pain reliever, it was considered dangerous and not as effective as drugs like morphine, hydrocodone and oxycodone and was not successful. In the 1960’s, a new market was found for methadone. Make no mistake, drugs are marketed and it was decided that the way to make money from methadone was to promote its use as a substitute for heroin.

This was perfect for the drug companies. Methadone creates an addiction so strong that if the addict does not take a dose of the drug each day, the addict will experience very painful withdrawals. It is also great for the drug company because once they addict someone to methadone it is very likely that the user will be on methadone the rest of their lives—or at least for many years. Since the drug companies are only interested in profits, what could be better?

Of course, they have condemned these poor addicted people to a horrible life, but the drug companies don’t care. So what if the person is chained to the methadone clinic every day? So what if the person has many physical and mental problems because of the methadone? Profit is what counts—not actually treating the addiction. If you treat the addiction effectively, you lose a life-long customer. That makes no sense to a drug company executive. If you want to understand the horrible life of a methadone addict, read The Methadone Prison.

Methadone for Pain — More Drug Company Greed

Not content with only being able to sell their addictive poison to the approximately 250,000 addicts that get their methadone at methadone clinics, the drug companies are eagerly promoting the use of methadone to doctors for the treatment of pain.

How Methadone, OxyContin and Other Narcotics Address Pain

People experiencing pain eventually go to a doctor. Instead of treating the cause of the pain, too often the patient is given dangerous narcotics like OxyContin or, increasingly now, methadone.

Few know how these narcotic drugs work. It is easiest to compare the effects of these dangerous narcotics to anesthesia. If you received anesthesia before an operation or during childbirth, it either put you to sleep or numbed you so that you either didn’t feel the pain or it was greatly reduced.

Most of us have felt the effects of another anesthesia—novocaine—when getting dental work. Novocaine numbs an area of the mouth and makes it less sensitive to the pain of the dentist’s drill. When the novocaine wears off, we feel the pain but it normally will lessen as the treated area heals.

Methadone Does Not Treat Pain

Like OxyContin—legal heroin—and novocaine, or any other anesthesia, methadone does not in any way “treat” pain but just prevents the pain from being felt by the patient—for a time. To keep the body numb, you have to keep taking the narcotic—unless you actually handle the cause of the pain.

Using the dental analogy, if you simply kept getting novocaine shots but never fixed the cavity that was causing the pain in a tooth, the cavity will enlarge and eventually kill the tooth and infect the gums. In addition, you would have to live with a numb jaw and not be able to taste your food.

This is the same problem created by many doctors when they prescribe a narcotic like methadone or OxyContin rather than diagnosing and actually treating the cause of the pain. However, unlike novocaine, when taking these dangerous narcotics, the patient experiences a numbing of their senses and numerous other side effects as shown here.

Opioid-Induced Hyperalgesia due to Methadone and Other Narcotic Use

There is another reason why prescribing narcotics for pain is often not a good idea. Why? The pain often becomes worse. This is called opioid-induced hyperalgesia.

Opioid-induced hyperalgesia is a condition where opioids, like methadone or OxyContin, will actually make the patient more sensitive to the pain it is supposed to be blocking. This means that the person feels that the pain is worse, so all too often the dosage of the narcotic is increased. However, the higher dosage of the opioid just makes the person more sensitive to pain and the patient demands more drugs. The person is now in a losing race against the pain because the more opioid he or she takes, the greater they feel the pain. (For more information you can read Do Opioids Actually Increase Pain?)

A Woman’s Story of Life on Methadone

Bob White, a reporter for the News-Enterprise in Hardin County, Kentucky, told the story of Joyce Cole, a 56-year-old Rineyville woman suffering from acute and chronic pain resulting from degenerative spinal disc disorder. Cole described some of the problems she started having.

“I’d just pass out,” Cole said. “I remember waking up with burns on my arms and wondering, “How’d that happen?’”

“I drove on this stuff without being able to recall where I’d been or how I’d got there,” Cole said.

Cole had another operation and was told that she had to come off methadone. She just stopped taking it. She said, “I was having horrible cramps in my stomach and charley horses in my legs,” Cole said. “I didn’t realize what was happening. I felt like I was dying. No wonder people don’t come off drugs.”

“It was two or three more weeks after that before I felt like I was going to survive,” Cole said. “I lost 30 pounds, and I was sick all the time. I remember telling myself “I’ll never again take methadone.’”

“It’s an awful drug,” Cole said. “At least you know you’re alive with the pain. I lost years of my life because of methadone.”

Methadone Deaths Risen 700%

Many people have not been as fortunate as Ms. Cole. The National Center for Health Statistics (“NCHS”) points out that the growing use of methadone for pain relief is a large part of the 700% increase in methadone deaths—making methadone one of the most deadly drugs. In 2006, there were over four million prescriptions written for pain relief.

According to the NHCS report, other opioids like OxyContin, Dilaudid and Vicodin are also killing people in record numbers.

  • 40% of all poisoning deaths in 2006 in the U.S. involved opioids.
  • The opioid death rate was highest for whites, males, and people between the ages of 35 and 54.

In a March 26, 2009 report entitled, Methadone-Associated Overdose Deaths: Factors Contributing to Increased Deaths and Efforts to Prevent Them, the Government Accounting Office pointed out that methadone prescriptions for pain management grew from about 531,000 in 1998 to about 4.1 million in 2006—nearly eightfold.

Why The Increased Deaths From Methadone

Methadone is generally only effective for pain relief for between four to six hours. However, it has a half-life. Half-life means the amount of time it takes for one-half of the drug to be eliminated from the body. After the second half-life, one fourth of the drug will remain in the body. This continues and most drugs are considered fully eliminated from the body after between five and seven half-lives. Methadone has a half-life of between 24 hours to 90 hours. Unlike OxyContin, oxycodone, Vicodin, hydrocodone and other opioids with a much shorter half-life, methadone will stay in the body for a long time.

Adverse Interactions of Methadone With Other Drugs

Many people suffering from pain will take other benzodiazepines like Xanax or Ativan or antidepressants like Paxil, Lexapro or Zoloft. These drugs are all metabolized through the P450 pathway in the liver—the same pathway used by methadone. In a significant number of people, these drugs are known to interfere with the way that methadone is metabolized. Sometimes this results in the methadone becoming more toxic. This can lead to an overdose of methadone in one patient even though they are taking what the label says are the proper doses of methadone.

The Lethal Results of Continuing Methadone Use

The difference between the time that methadone provides anesthesia benefits and the long half-life of methadone often leads to a person:

  • Starting to feel more pain in a few hours;
  • Not being aware that even though the pain relief is gone, there are still high levels of methadone in the body;
  • Taking more methadone for the pain, which causes highly toxic levels of methadone;
  • Going to sleep and never waking up.

Methadone for Pain Causes Death — Even At Therapeutic Levels

It is not just taking more and more methadone that kills patients. A study by Oregon Health & Science University researchers published in the January 2008 issue of The American Journal of Medicine concluded that “Methadone is a possible cause of sudden cardiac death even when it isn’t overdosed but is taken at therapeutic levels primarily for relief of chronic pain or drug addiction withdrawal.”

The study’s findings were based on an evaluation of all sudden cardiac deaths in the greater Portland, Oregon, metropolitan area between 2002 and 2006 where detailed autopsies were performed.

“The unexpectedly high proportion of otherwise unexplained sudden deaths in the therapeutic methadone group points to a significant contribution of this drug toward the occurrence of sudden cardiac death among these patients,” said Sumeet Chugh, M.D., lead investigator. However, the unexpectedly high proportion (77%) of otherwise unexplained sudden deaths in the methadone group points to a significant contribution of this drug toward the occurrence of sudden cardiac death among these patients.

In an article entitled Methadone Poisoning Epidemic published in the summer 2008 issue of The Forensic Examiner, Dr. Johnathan Lipman says:

  • “Methadone at high doses, or in naive users or idiosyncratically at much lower doses, depresses respiration and may interfere with cardiac function, either or both of which can lead to death.”
  • “Methadone may interact with other CNS (central nervous system) depressants to produce lethal respiratory depression—people die because they simply stop breathing as a result of the depression of the brain’s respiratory centers.”
  • “There is no "toxic level" of methadone. Rather, people die of so-called "overdose" as a result of the effect of a blood level that exceeds their individual tolerance to the drug’s toxic effects on respiration and heart function.”


You would think that any normal person who works at a drug company would be concerned that they are condemning tens of thousands of our children, relatives and friends to a life of addiction to methadone rather than advocating treatment that would free the person from drugs.

You would think that these same people at the drug companies would not want to make even more addicts and kill more people. However, they continue to place profits above the welfare of their customers. They don’t want to educate doctors or patients on the dangers of methadone because that would be bad for business.

It is time to expose these drug company executives and employees to the ridicule that they have earned by putting their profits in front of the health and well-being of the rest of us.

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