Methadone has been around since World War II. Web MD explains that a shortage of morphine required German doctors to synthesize a new analgesic medication to treat extreme pain. Doctors in the United States started prescribing methadone, then known as Dolophine, to patients after the war in 1947.
Methadone is relatively safe compared to other narcotics. However, it has abuse potential and, like other opioid drugs, can produce potentially life-threatening effects. Therefore, according to the DEA, it is a Schedule II controlled substance.
Methadone is a strong painkiller, and doctors may prescribe it to relieve pain following surgery, a severe injury or due to a long-term illness. Compared to other opioid medications, methadone does not work as quickly. Therefore, it may not be the first-line treatment.
It is common for patients to receive methadone as part of drug addiction treatment. In a process known as replacement therapy, the patient receives methadone in place of other narcotic drugs. This reduces both cravings for and withdrawal symptoms from the drug the patient has used by blocking the high that the patient would otherwise feel.
Methadone is chemically different from drugs such as morphine and heroin for which it is often a substitute. However, it is still a narcotic, which means that the misuse of methadone can have severe adverse effects. Overdose can cause respiratory difficulties potentially leading to coma and/or death. Methadone abuse can also cause side effects ranging from mild to severe, including upset stomach, constipation or itchy skin.
To help curb abuse, manufacturers and wholesale distributors only supply methadone to hospitals and opioid treatment centers.