50 years ago, methadone made a rosy debut

Excerpt from the February 4, 1967, issue of Science News


DOUBLE-EDGED DRUG  Methadone was heralded as the answer to opiate addiction. But for all its benefits, it’s still an opiate.

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Heroin cure works 

[T]he drug methadone appears to have fulfilled its promise as an answer to heroin addiction. Some 276 hard-core New York addicts … have lost their habits and none have returned to heroin — a 100 percent success rating. Methadone, a synthetic narcotic, acts by blocking the euphoric effect of opiates. Addicts thus get nothing from heroin and feel no desire to take it. — Science News. February 4, 1967.


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved methadone as a treatment for opiate addiction in 1972 but quickly recognized that it was no panacea. That same year, policy makers worried that methadone would produce addicts — as patients got high off the treatment itself (SN: 10/28/72, p. 277). Methadone can be deadly: In 2014, 3,400 people died of methadone overdoses. Although methadone is still used, drugs such as buprenorphine and naltrexone have joined the treatment arsenal for opiate addiction.

Bethany was previously the staff writer at Science News for Students. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology from Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

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