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Quitting Opiates: Go Cold Turkey or Get on Methadone?

Updated on April 19, 2013

Positive Thoughts & Quotes Help Me Greatly on My Quest for Sobriety...

How Do People Get Here?

I used to think that methadone was only for total loser heroin junkies who still used heroin on the side and who didn't truly even want to be clean and sober, but used the methadone as a front for the drugs they were doing, that way they could tell their families they don't use anymore. Shame on me. I am not a judgmental person at all, in fact I'm the least judgmental person you could ever imagine there being, therefore I'm not really sure where I came up with that notion, but I couldn't have been more wrong. The truth is, methadone does for people what people can't do for themselves. I know, because I'm on methadone. I will probably be on methadone for the rest of my life.

I have battled opiate addiction head-on. I have been dealing with it for over five years now. Not because I'm a junkie who wanted to get high; I have many back problems that began when I was just ten years old, and have dealt with chronic back pain all my life. I never thought in a million years that I would be one of those people who couldn't get off of drugs. I mean really, I am just not that person. I was the teenager leading a group of kids in a Say No To Drugs Week parade while holding up a "Just Say No!" banner. I didn't do any drugs nor did I drink alcohol my entire adolescence. I didn't start drinking socially until my 20s. When I hit my 30s, however, you know what they say: "Thirties are the new twenties"... I sure lived that saying up, because starting with my 30th birthday I became a regular partier--I was very responsible about it, always with my husband and either we stayed at a hotel somewhere or he didn't drink but one or two drinks all night so he was okay to drive. My life between age 25 and 32 was, to say the least, a very exciting, wonderful time in my life. Then I was severely injured; the injury brought about x-rays and MRIs--then several other conditions besides what was caused by the injury were discovered, which led to me being prescribed Norco at first, then OxyContin. Massive amounts of OxyContin--I believe because my Doctor didn't know how to deal with someone as young as me having the back problems I have. I believe she had very good intentions in the very beginning. I was on OxyContin for just one short month, and I knew I was hooked. The thing about OxyContin is this: you know how prescription bottles have a warning that says: "take this prescription exactly as precribed"? With OxyContin, that statement must be exactly respected because if you take even one extra pill beyond what you are prescribed, that's when addiction sets in. After being on OxyContin for just one month, I knew I was in trouble--I could feel it in my gut. I wasn't going to be able to stop. That is an extremely short period of time to become so deeply addicted to one medication. I couldn't get off. I went to treatment but came out feeling worse than ever, and over the course of the next few months my life spiraled downward into an abyss of deep depression, intense loneliness and self-hatred. I wanted more than anything to have OxyContin back, but my husband gave me an ultimatum which forced me to stay away from OxyContin. I eventually downgraded back to Norco, but for more than two years I could not stop taking up to 100 Norco every day. It was a cycle that wouldn't end. I hated my life at that point; I didn't want to take those nasty pills anymore, but every time I tried to stop, the feeling was so unbearable that I always went back to using. There was only one option for me and I put it off and put it off, until I couldn't put it off any longer.....

Helpful Story About One Man's Journey--A Tough Story Like Mine

The DrEaDeD Liquid

This is my bottle of methadone for the afternoon; I have a "split dose", which means I get a portion of my daily dose later in the day.
This is my bottle of methadone for the afternoon; I have a "split dose", which means I get a portion of my daily dose later in the day.

2 Choices: Quit Cold Turkey or Get on Methadone

I had been told by a few acquaintances who I knew because of what I did, that I needed to get on methadone. The amount of Norco I was taking was killing my liver, and killing my finances. Plus, I was trying to keep it from my husband. He thought I had quit in summer of 2011, and not only did I hate lying to him, but it was getting harder and harder. I purposely burned the last bridge I had to Norco so that I would be forced to either quit or try methadone. I decided to try methadone. I called on a Friday afternoon and was set up for Monday morning first thing. I was going to do it, I was really going to do it.

The two main questions I had for the Counselors and Nurses at the methadone clinic, questions which were very important in my decision whether or not I wanted to go through with this, were:

  1. Is methadone a very strong opiate? AND
  2. How hard is it to get off of methadone?

The answers that I was given to these two questions made me feel comfortable enough to proceed, but I later found out that the answers I was given, were incorrect. First of all, I was told, almost verbatim, that "methadone is a very mild opiate, one of the most mild opiates on the market"--great I thought! That means it won't be nearly as hard to quit as Norco was even. But I later found out that not only isn't methadone a mild opiate, but methadone is an extremely strong opiate and because it's synthetic, it acts differently in the brain and body than a natural opiate would. According to WikiAnswers, "Methadone is stronger than oxycodone by up to 5 to 8 times..." and while researching the first question, I came across the answer to both on WikiAnswers. Here's what they said in regard to my second question: "...methadone has a longer withdrawal cycle than oxycodone and can last up to two weeks...getting off of methadone can be much more difficult than getting off oxy's..." They further state, to my absolute horror and disgust, that "...methadone can turn into a lifelong maintenance...methadone should only be the very last resort..." I will admit WikiAnswers isn't always the most reliable source, however, I checked up on this information they provided and found it to be accurate. Which means the information I was given by the treatment center was completely inaccurate, and I would have to address that with them.

Living Proof of Methadone's Ability to Save Lives

This woman, a patient at the same clinic as me, did heroin for 25 yrs before finding methadone. It saved her life...she had been shooting heroin up so much that she had been hospitalized on many occasions for severe needle cysts all over her body..
This woman, a patient at the same clinic as me, did heroin for 25 yrs before finding methadone. It saved her life...she had been shooting heroin up so much that she had been hospitalized on many occasions for severe needle cysts all over her body..

Was This The Right Choice?

I've seen all the research, and I am well aware of the pros and cons of methadone, and most of the information I have acquired has been since I myself began a methadone maintenance program. I was in a very, very bad place when I was taking Norco. Let me give you a little snipet of what life as a Norco addict is like: ~ Every morning I woke up and the first thing I thought of was Norco. I got up and took them before I did anything at all. Then, once my kids had gotten off to school, I would immediately start calling/texting around trying to secure the next day's pills, I would usually be told it would be later in the day, around 5pm. The biggest thing was, how much I took that day depended heavily on whether or not I would be getting more pills that day. What happened 99% of the time, is I took the rest of my pills assuming I would be getting more, then just about every single time, something came up where I was unable to get any for the next day. Which now meant I had none for the next day, because I had told myself I would be getting some for the next day and when it didn't happen, it would literally ruin the rest of my day, because I knew I would be waking up the next day with nothing at all to take. Then I would have to be miserable with full-fledged withdrawals until I was able to find more pills. The withdrawals, oh man, the withdrawals from having not enough opiates in my system is the worst feeling in the world. My skin started to burn and itch, and feel like there were bugs crawling on it; the internal anxiety was just as bad. I felt the way I would feel as a kid right before getting up in front of the class to do a presentation; but this was 100 times worse. Then I would get the shakes, diarrhea, and vomiting. And my stomach hurt so bad that I couldn't eat at all or I would throw it all up. These symptoms (and believe me, I haven't even described them in full) were so unbearable, that my whole life became about whether or not I could find pills or not each and every day; on methadone, that's no longer an issue. It will always be there for me.

My husband had zero tolerance for this way of life for me--it did not matter to him that it all started with my injury, or that the MRIs I had done showed several other major things wrong with my back. To him, I was a junkie. To him, I had a choice from day 1 whether or not to let it rule my life. Believe me, I know that technically, I had a choice. But there was a point at which death was more desirable to me than trying to live clean from opiates on my own, and death was so desirable I even tried to find a way to make it happen. Now that I'm on methadone, I don't think about pills at all. In fact, my husband gets 240 Norco each month and I used to constantly get in to them and take a little at a time; now, it doesn't matter if they are sitting right in front of me, they do nothing for me anymore. Pills are no longer a topic of conversation. The things that used to be important to me, are important to me again. I have my life back.

Everyone asks me what would happen if I tried to get off of methadone, how bad would the withdrawals be, they ask. I don't think about that, because as far as I'm concerned, I will be on methadone for the rest of my life. I'm 37 years old...from what I read, methadone is quite damaging to the brain, particularly after long-term use. How does that make me feel? I will probably die younger than I would if I weren't on methadone, but my life years are going to be filled with much more happiness, positivity, peace, and hope now that I have pills out of my life. If I AM able to one day get off methadone and continue on the same positive life path as I am now on, then fantastic. But I'm okay with continuing just as I am right now. Almost immediately after getting on Methadone Maintenance Therapy, my life improved. My positive attitude returned. My husband said almost immediately that he felt like he had his old Jenni back. I felt as though I had been in a haze for so long and then woke up the day I started MMT. It's a feeling I can never adequately explain, except to say I'm thankful everyday for methadone.

An Important Piece of Information for Methadone Patients

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      Patch Taylor Simm 2 months ago

      I had to correct one peice of misinformation in this article: the idea that taking more oxycodone pills than directed is what gets a person hooked on the drug.

      Oxycone, when taken as directed, is certainly addictive, and any prescription for it will direct the patient to take a certain number of times daily, or something similar - the point is, unless the directions forbid one from taking it every day (and they don't ) then one can become addicted by using the medication exactly as directed, because that is all it takes, daily use.

      Speaking from my own experience (a 3 year, $600 per week heroin habit that started with a prescription for oxycodone and has ended with 3 years and counting of methadone dependency) the situation that you described, 30 days of taking oxycodone daily, will almost certainly result in a physical (as well as psychological) dependence on the drug. The only exception to this I can imagine is if one was prescribed so small a dose that its effects on pain would be negligible; even the dose contained in a percocet is enough to create dependency after 30 days of daily use.

      The problem isnt neccessarily that people misuse the prescription, although that certainly happens in many cases. The problem is that by the time the doctor prescribes less, (or just cuts you off without tapering), you are already hooked (in many cases, despite taking it as directed), and dont have the will power to ween off - at that point you are no longer using it as directed, but that behavior results from being addicted already.

      This distinction is important because if not stated both doctors and patients are given a false sense of security - as long as the medication is being taken as directed - and when addiction results, all of the fault goes to the patient, which creates a paradigm that is likely to reinforce feelings of low self worth and/or instill a sense of guilt, both of which can further fuel the psychological addiction and keep the addicted individual from seeking help from friends and family. It is this kind of thing that can make drug addiction the self fulfilling prophecy that it so often becomes.

      Dont get me wrong though, I thought this was a good article that addresses a very important topic, a discussion that needs to take place between a doctor and patient prior to, or at the very onset of taking opiod drugs for pain management. I just happen to have good reason to think that it is a mistake to assume that it is only patients who misuse their prescription become addicted to these inherently addictive narcotic drugs. And furthermore, I couldn't help but get the feeling, when reading your article, that you are bearing too much of the burden, shouldering nearly all of the responsibility for something that can happen to anyone. This is a common problem with many rehabilitation programs, in my opinion; there is almost no aspect of chemical dependency that can be viewed in the oversimplified terms of "black and white" that create a blind spot in the thinking of many rehabilitation specialists and support groups.

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      Patch Taylor Simm 2 months ago

      Well after rereading that i should have spent more time editing, that last part should say that "black and white" thinking IS WHAT creates a blind spot in the minds of addiction recovery specialists - and ill add that this is something that I know well from about 25 years of experience with drug addiction.

      Also, I should have addressed the question you asked yourself as you wrote this, of whether or not getting on methadone was the right decision vs cold turkey. Ordinarily I would say wholeheartedly that it was the right decision, as for heroin addiction , and for other *full strength* pain killers (the kind that don't come combined with 350 to 500 mg of acetomenaphin), there really isnt the option of "cold turkey" ... when I tried cold turkey I wound up in an ambulance and then the ER, and it was only because the city I live in has such a huge amount of heroin on the streets that the doctors at the ER experienced enough with the problem to not have qualms about giving me the 140 mg of morphine that was needed so I could walk out of there on my own - and thats all it accomplished, 6 hours later I was in the throes of intense, potentially life threatening withdrawal, and on my way to score an oz of heroin to keep me well until I could get into the methadone clinic later that week, once the doctor at the clinic was available for intake.

      However, if you were last on Norco's (I am assuming you mean the very common Norco Vicodin immitation pills that come 7.5mg-10mg hydrocodone per 500 mg acetomenaphin; i make the distinction because Norco makes other drugs and other varieties of pain killers as well), then IMO , you probably shouldn't have gotten on methadone .... you mentioned that methadone is 8 to 10 times stronger ... than oxycodone, well that is an extremely conservative estimate, if there is any accuracy to it at all. Methadone in many ways is stronger than heroin - it doesnt provide the quick onset, the rush, that heroin does, but even most very experienced heroin addicts can barely keep their eyes open and their head up on methadone. Furthermore, methadone is strong enough to block the high users get from heroin (by increasing the patient's tolerance to such a high level that the quick onset, or rush, is barely noticeable) ... imagine how strong it would have to be to block heroin's effects, considering that it is heroin that blocks the effects of even the strongest painkillers such as morphine sulphate, dilaudid, oxycodone ... and you can forget about Norco.

      I am just thinking about what you said in your article, which is absolutely true - you may very well be on methadone for the rest of your life (you shouldn't accept that as inevitable, though, as many people eventually do taper down and get off methadone for good, it's just difficult, and for a lot of people getting off methadone is a bad idea because they are likely to wind up back on heroin). I hope at the very least you are on a fairly low dose of methadone (i do not recall if you said what the dose was in your article).

      The only reason I can think of that would justify the recommendation to switch from Norco to methadone would be if you were taking so many of them at a time or each day that you were endangering yourself by potentially causing yourself to have massive liver failure due to the acetomenaphin contained in the pills, which contains basically something very close to the maximum dose of that drug in 2 or 3 pills. That is how Heath Ledger died, for example.

      But otherwise , I have to think that you may have really gotten bad advice on that, unfortunately. I don't mean to make light of your addiction at all, but everything you stated about how strong methadone is, and how hard it is to get off of it, is absolutely true, and as I said, your estimate may be pretty conservative.

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