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Responses to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) were developed by the editorial staff of Addiction Treatment Forum and made possible by an educational grant from Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, a manufacturer of methadone and naltrexone.

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Methadone Myths

GermanyIs It True That Methadone Was Developed By The Nazis And Originally Named After Hitler?

Methadone was, indeed, discovered in Germany – in the late 1930’s. Two scientists, Max Bockmühl and Gustav Ehrhart, working for the large German chemicals conglomerate IG Farberindustrie at Hoechst-Am-Main, were exploring synthetic (man-made) compounds with a structure similar to Dolantin. This was an opioid analgesic discovered earlier at the same company (and later marketed as Pethidine, Demerol, and other brands).

There is no evidence that the discovery of methadone was specifically part of a Nazi-ordered attempt to replace opium supplies disrupted by the war. Methadone was first called “Hoechst 10820” and Bockmühl and Ehrhart filed a patent application in September 1941. The agent was later named Polamidon in Germany, and much later generically called methadone. Methadone was not effectively used as an analgesic during the war years, allegedly because the very high initial doses typically administered at that time produced intolerable side effects.

As part of the “spoils of war,” the formula for Polamidon became available to other countries worldwide and was further tested and used for analgesia. It soon became generically known as methadone – or, “methadon” in some early publications – and was first manufactured in the United States by Mallinckrodt, Inc. Later, trade names in the U.S. included Methadose* and Dolophine.** Many other brands of methadone have been developed in other countries through the years.

There is no truth to the myth that one of the early methadone brands – Dolophine – was named in honor of Adolf Hitler (or that the drug was called “Adolophine” in Germany, with the “A” being dropped after the war). In fact, the name, Dolophine, originated at Eli Lilly & Co. in the U.S. long after the war, and was probably derived from the French dolor (pain) and fin (end). However, some have claimed the “Dol-” portion came from dol, which is a unit measure of pain (derived from dolor), and “-ophine” was derived from morphine.

Sources:

Bäumler E. A Century of Chemistry. Dusseldorf: Econ Verlag; 1968.

Chen KK. Pharmacology of methadone and related compounds. Annals NY Acad Sci. 1948.

Ehrhart G, Ruschig H. Arzneimittel entwicklung wirkung darstellung, band 1, therapeutica mit wirkung auf das zentral nervensystem. Weinheim: Verlag Chemie; 1972.

Ehrhart G. Some new analgesics and antispasmodics. ODC Bulletin on Narcotics (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime). 1956;1:28-32.

Eichler O, Farah A. Handbuch Der Experimentellen Pharmakologie. Berlin: Springer-Verlag; 1957.

Gerlach R. A brief overview on the discovery of methadone. INDRO e.V. Munster 2004. Available at: http://www.indro-online.de/discovery.pdf

Payte JT. A brief history of methadone in the treatment of opioid dependence: A personal perspective. J Psychoactive Drugs. 1991;23:103-107.

Preston A. The Methadone Briefing. Section 1: The history of methadone and methadone prescribing. Online edition, 2003.

*Methadose is a registered trademark of Mallinckrodt, Inc.

**Dolophine is a registered trademarks of Roxane Laboratories, Inc.

Revised July 2009

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teethDoes Methadone Get In Your Bones And Rot Your Teeth?

In surveys, significant numbers of patients being treated with methadone have complained of bone and joint aches, and tooth decay. This led to the myth that methadone gets in the bones.

Methadone itself has not been demonstrated to have any harmful effect on bones or teeth. During active addiction, many patients neglect their health and tend to overlook daily aches and pains. This, plus their intake of short-acting opioids, tends to mask such pain. Once stabilized on methadone, these same patients become more aware of these conditions, often for the first time, and blame the methadone. Furthermore, studies have found that ache and pain complaints are more prominent among patients receiving lower methadone doses. Thus, their symptoms may actually be due to methadone withdrawal before the usual daily dose.

Additionally, dental health is widely neglected among drug-addicted people, and this may be made worse by poor nutrition. Hence, it is not surprising that many patients become aware of their dental problems while in medication-assisted treatment (MAT). For some, it is easier to blame the methadone, rather than their own past neglect. Even the small amount of sugar in liquid methadone would not normally contribute to the development of dental decay.

Of some concern, however, one small study of MAT patients found substantial vitamin D deficiency and there also was a high prevalence of osteoporosis, especially among male subjects. These conditions could contribute to unexplained body pains and a variety of other symptoms. Methadone was not thought to be a cause of these conditions; however, since the vitamin deficiency and bone disease are treatable the researchers recommended that further study is warranted to address these possible problems in MAT patients.

Sources:

Goldsmith DS, Hunt DE, Lipton DS, Strug DL. Methadone folklore: believes about side effects and their impact on treatment. Human Organization. 1984;43(4):330-339.

Kim TW, et al. Bone health in methadone maintenance treatment. Paper presented at: CPDD (College on Problems of Drug Dependence) 65 th Annual Meeting; June 2004; San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Meyer C. Scientists Probe Role of Vitamin D. Deficiency a Significant Problem, Experts Say. JAMA. 2004;292(12):1416-1418.

Velten E. Myths about methadone. NAMA Eduction Series, Number 3. 1992.

Updated July 2009

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