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America's Most Successful Heroin Treatment: A Brief History Of Methadone

4/17/18

treatments for heroin addiction

Methadone is currently one of the leading treatments for heroin addiction, but this wasn't always the case. During the 1950s, treatments for heroin addiction rarely worked, namely because treatment was nonexistent. Addicts generally ended up in civil confinement and abstinence-based treatment programs, rather than actual medical treatment.

Methadone treatment gradually became the new and improved way to handle opiate addiction because of three specific social forces, including the Vietnam War, escalating drug use, and methadone's discovery.

A Brief History Of Methadone: The Rise Of Opioids In The 1970s

During the 1960s and 1970s, drug experimentation helped fuel the fire of a growing opiate problem. The nation's heroin problem escalated so much so that President Gerald Ford recommended the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Customs Service to focus less on cocaine and more on heroin traffickers.

By the mid-1970s, Vicodin and Percocet came on the market and doctors began to prescribe opioids as a pain treatment. These prescriptions increased after an 11-line letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine by Dr. Hershel Jick in January 1980 wrongfully claimed that opioid addiction was rare.

What's more, American troops in Vietnam were also suffering from heroin addiction. Heroin's cheap price overseas and its temporary stress-relieving, euphoric properties were popular among the traumatized soldiers. Approximately 10% to 25% of American military personnel stationed in Southeast Asia suffered from heroin addiction.

As soldiers began to return from the Vietnam War, President Richard Nixon feared the return of American soldiers would worsen the nation's heroin problem. As a result, Nixon ordered the first federal program to treat opiate addiction using methadone in 1971.

Methadone's Birth And Development

Methadone was first developed in World War II by German scientists to combat a morphine shortage. However, methadone was later abandoned after adverse side effects became apparent with high dosages.

The American pharmaceutical company Eli-Lilly later began to produce methadone in 1947. Methadone was first used to treat opioid addiction during the 1950s.

However, it wasn't until Dr. Vincent Dole of Rockefeller University won a grant to study treatments for heroin addiction in the 1960s that the use of methadone as a viable treatment option for heroin was discovered.

By 1971, Dole's methadone programs treated as many as 25,000 people suffering from opiate addiction. However, methadone became controversial in 1973 when critics claimed the treatment exchanged one addiction for another despite the fact that the dosage of methadone was minimal and controlled by medical professionals.

The controversy led to strict government control over methadone, which remains in place today.

Despite controversy and government control, methadone is still one of the most successful treatments for heroin addiction. Methadone has a success rate between 60% to 90% compared to abstinence-only programs, and approximately 270,000 people were receiving methadone treatment in March 2011. To learn more about methadone treatment for heroin addiction here in Chicago, contact Sundance Methadone Treatment Center today.


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