Thursday, 7 March 2013

Methadone is Not 'The Fix' to Heroin Addiction

Coming off methadone is worse than coming off heroin
A month or two ago someone I knew from Brighton's 17-19 Grand Parade, a terrible excuse for homeless provision that is known as 'temporary accommodation' was released from prison and had drifted back to Brighton.

A cradle Catholic who is perhaps on the periphery of the Church, but who wants to re-engage with the Faith, he told me about his struggles with heroin addiction and the substance that is used by the authorities to counter it - methadone. I must say, I have not yet read Damian Thompson's book on addiction, so I don't know whether he discusses methadone in his book.

While it is true to say that there are quite a few heroin users who are 'dual users' of both methadone and heroin, it is also true to say that many heroin addicts are provided with methadone as the replacement for heroin. There is, I believe, widespread ignorance of what methadone is and what it does.

Methadone is meant to 'hold' the heroin addict and so health authorities and 'substance misuse' services provide, through chemists, the amount of methadone deemed required by users to hold them. Methadone is an opiate based drink that acts as a legal replacement for heroin and has a degree of success in keeping heroin users off the illegal substance. It is, however, still an opiate and ensures that heroin users are for a long time, perhaps even for life, addicted to methadone.

The withdrawal effects of coming off methadone are extreme
The man I was talking to about heroin describes coming off methadone as twice as hard, far harder than coming off heroin. This is because of the great pain and suffering that comes from the withdrawal symptoms. He was in prison for about six months and used the opportunity of being in a 'safe place' with no distractions to come off methadone since the substance is actually quite toxic. For a start, being addicted to methadone ensures that your teeth rot away really rather quickly. It tastes vile. God alone knows what it does to your insides.

For three months, then, the man was in prison 'climbing up the walls' of his cell, unable to eat much and experienced at first hand the awful withdrawal effects that include vomiting, sweating, diarrhea, nausea, panic attacks, itching, stomach pains, constipation, headaches, skin rashes, urination problems, hallucinations and insomnia, to mention just a few. The withdrawal effects of coming of methadone, he says, are more powerful in intensity than coming off heroin and last longer.

The substance was developed by IG Farben during the Third Reich and is said to have been given to troops to keep them going through hardship in war. This was, let's remember, the same company that created and supplied Hitler with the necessary Zyklon B toxic gas for the extermination of millions of Jews, gypsies, dissidents and anyone else the Nazis thought to be not unfit for purpose.

1940s advertisement for IG Farben
The man claims that on the outside world, giving up heroin and certainly giving up methadone is nearly impossible without being in a safe place in order to go through the agony of the withdrawal symptoms. In Brighton, a massive proportion of the homeless and hostel dwellers queue up every morning for methadone as the replacement to their heroin addiction. They are, of course, all methadone addicts as well. On top of this, many are alcoholics.

The susbstance misuse service team daily breathalyse their 'clients'. If they have been unable to limit the alcohol, from even the night before which is still in their bloodstream and run over. If in being breathalysed, the 'client' goes 'over' and fails the test, they are refused methadone. Having been refused methadone, the 'client' is sent away and, not terribly surprisingly, then calls or finds a dealer, having begged enough money, in order to get his 'fix' of heroin because he has been refused the methadone.

Therefore, for many addicts, heroin is still a feature of their lives, something their bodies require urgently, because they have been refused the only replacement because of their other addiction to alcohol. One day they will get the methadone and this will 'hold' them, but it is unknown to many whether they will be able to maintain the discipline to limit their alcohol intake and therefore often find themselves begging or spending their benefits on heroin and supplying the heroin dealers with money.

Mill View Hospital in Hove, where addicts go for 'detox'
 The 'clients' then, in a terrible cycle of methadone, alcohol and heroin dependency await a precious place in Mill View Hospital where they can detox. However, while in Mill View Hospital, there is rarely, if ever any programme to help people come off methadone.

Methadone is supplied to the clients in the hospital as being the wonderful replacement for heroin that it patently is not. There are some stories of people successfully coming off methadone by having their amounts reduced, so long as these people are not alcohol dependent or are able to limit their alcohol intake the night before the morning after.

There is little will to help heroin addicts come off methadone. Even if the will and the funding is there, the priority is for addicts to be given a safe place to 'detox' off heroin or alcohol. Despite its abject failure, the services clearly do not recognise methadone replacement initiative to be the abject failure that it patently is. The homeless describe it as a vicious cycle, nearly impossible to get off. Few people understand the situation and dependency of the heroin addict. There is no one-off, miracle solution for it - it is a bodily dependency. The only way, it seems, to break free from the cycle of heroin and methadone addiction in modern Britain is to commit a crime, get sent to jail and start the 'recovery programme' yourself and what a 'strength of will' is required to do that!

1 comment:

  1. Love your blog! We provide drug addiction and alcohol rehab in Surrey and I've found your article to be really helpful, thank you!

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