Although the drug methadone was first developed during World War II in Germany, it wasn't until the mid-sixties that it began to be used as a treatment for heroin addiction. In the 40s and 50s the drug was not broadly used at first because of reported side effects such as nausea and possible overdose.
Methadone was eventually approved as a painkiller in the U.S. in 1947 and doctors began using it to treat patients during heroin withdrawal. As the number of heroin addicts grew throughout the 50s and escalated into an epidemic in bigger U.S. cities, the spread of disease called for a drastic solution.
By 1964, two medical researchers at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York City began investigating treatment for heroin addiction and began a more systematic use of methadone for recovering addicts.
The Emergence of Methadone in Heroin Treatment
The husband and wife research team at Rockefeller developed a system of dosing addicts with methadone. After a year of studying the effects of the treatment, they announced they had successfully treated a group of twenty-two heroin addicts with methadone.
The addicts studied in treatment were able to find jobs and stabilize their families with the help of supervision and support along with the methadone doses. Initially this treatment received a negative response from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs because methadone was reported to be addictive.
Six years later the treatment of heroin addiction with methadone was considered an effective approach that could be expanded for the National War on Drugs. Nixon offered federal funds for new methadone clinics and by the mid-eighties, methadone substitution spread nationwide.
Heroin addiction became only a low-grade problem in comparison with the growth of crack-cocaine. Under Reagan's presidency, however, the government began to question the effectiveness of methadone treatment and called it substituting one addictive drug for another.
The Resurgence of Heroin and Need for Substitution Therapy
The use of methadone and the government's opinion on its value has shifted back and forth over the past half-century. In the late 90s Mayor Giuliani of New York City began to phase out long term methadone treatment and called the drug an "enslaver".
In more recent times, heroin addiction has grown again and opiates have become another epidemic rather than stimulants like cocaine or methamphetamines. Both heroin and prescription opiate painkillers like Vicodin, Percoset and Oxycontin are part of a growing health crisis that needs to be addressed through treatment and recovery options for addicts.
While these types of addictions can still be treated with methadone there are newer and at times more effective options available for recovery like Suboxone. Although similar to methadone, Suboxone has less potential for overdose and is also less addictive.
It is a new type of substitution therapy that uses the concept of methadone treatment with a more efficient drug substitution.
Although methadone is often criticized for being another addictive drug given to heroin addicts, substitution therapy has actually proven effective in many cases of recovery and treatment. While it does not cure addiction, it helps patients manage their symptoms and reduce the damage that heroin has on individuals and society.
Patients using substitution therapy have shown in studies that they consistently use less opiates, commit fewer crimes and substantially reduce their odds of contracting infections like hepatitis C and HIV. Critics of methadone and new drugs like Suboxone may not agree with the idea of substitution therapy but it has helped millions of addicts in their ability to recover from life-threatening substance abuse.
With the resurgence of heroin and prescription opiate addiction in recent years it may be necessary for more people to get help from drugs like methadone in the future.