Utah calls methadone drug with potential for abuse


    By Faye Vergara

    Methadone, a drug used to treat heroin addicts and chronic pain, is one of the fastest growing drug killers in the United States. Although methadone deaths aren”t common in Utah, officials have called it a threat.

    Methadone is a synthetic narcotic that is taken orally and prevents heroin withdrawal, blocking the effects of illicit heroin use and decreasing heroin craving.

    “It has the potential for abuse,” said Utah State Division of Substance Abuse Director BJ Van Roosendaal. “It is controversial because people are still addicted to methadone … even after they are off heroin. There is controversy about methadone maintenance nationally and locally.”

    Roosendaal said methadone helps people maintain themselves without having to buy drugs to keep from going into withdrawals.

    “As an agency, we think the good outweighs the bad,” she said.

    It was developed in Germany at the end of the Second World War as a substitute for morphine, which was in short supply at the time.

    According to the American Pain Society, the trade name of methadone, dolophine, could be derived from Hitler”s first name Adolph.

    Research later showed it could also be used to treat withdrawal symptoms in heroin addicts and be used in treating chronic pain.

    “There”s a misconception about methadone,” said Tony Taliauli, director of Discovery House, a Utah County rehab center. “You say Methadone and you think Heroin addict. But it”s not always that.”

    However, although there are few cases of Utahns overdosing on methadone, the number of methadone overdose cases is growing nationally.

    In 2002, 179 people died from methadone overdoses in Florida, which was an 80 percent increase. Florida also reported 271 heroin deaths and 390 cocaine deaths that year, a significant increase from previous years.

    In 2002, nine Portland residents died from methadone overdoses.

    Some doctors are surprised with the amount of methadone deaths that have recurred in recent years.

    A sedative more than a stimulant, Methadone does not provide a quick or potent high, and has been considered an unlikely drug for substance abuse.

    “By the time that they try to get off of it, they get so sick,” Taliauli said. “When they are going through withdrawals, it”s about 30 times the flu, that”s why people go back on it.”

    Taliauli said that after some time, people don”t get high, but need to take the opiates to feel better, just as a diabetic needs his insulin.

    Methadone is also less expensive than other opiates, such as morphine.

    People pay $14 for 100 methadone pills, and up to $522 for 100 morphine pills.

    “When I took one, that put me in a loop,” Taliauli said. “That was when I had a knee problem. Now think of people who get into a (car) wreck and then they need three or four. After a while it doesn”t help you, because they”re still in so much pain.”

    Other officials in Utah say Methadone is helping patients live normal lives.

    “Our patients take the pill to be able to function and stay away from other drugs,” said Bob Verville, program director for Utah County Project Reality. “Our goal is to try to detoxify people from opiates to become drug free. Methadone is a cheap form of treatment, is controlled and good for people.”

    Verville said Project Reality treats about 100 patients in Utah County. He said there is a possibility patients could sell Methadone in the streets but the project monitors patients” use through urine samples and an incentive program.

    “Patients can get up to six take-home doses a week after a couple of years,” Verville said. “They need to hold down a job, show good citizenship and maintain a drug-free lifestyle.”

    Verville said that other opiates require three to four daily doses and often renders users highly non-functional and sedated. But with Methadone, users have one daily dose that allows them to remain functional.

    Utah”s Substance abuse treatment system serves about 22,836 individuals or 25 percent of the actual need, according to the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. A combined total of approximately 89,701 adults and youth are in need of substance abuse treatment and services.

    Officials report only two Methadone related deaths in Utah County.

    According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Shayne DeWitt, who was living with his father in Spanish Fork, died in May 2001 of a methadone overdose. His father, Derek DeWitt, was prescribed Methadone for chronic pain. Shayne was responsible for dispensing the pain medications to his father. There was an argument over missing medication and Shayne moved out of the apartment.

    Shortly after, Shayne overdosed on his father”s prescription painkillers, OxyContin and Methadone. His roommate found him dead in his bed.

    The other case, according to Methadone state officials, was a young girl in Provo who overdosed on Methadone that had been given to her by her boyfriend.

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