(Springfield, MO) -- It's a controversial drug that's use is on the rise across the nation and in Southwest Missouri. Methadone was created to take away pain, but some people argue it only creates problems.
It is used by a wide spectrum of patients; from soccer mom to illegal drug addict.
As of this year, federal regulations were put in place to better monitor dosing of the potent substance. Supporters say it's an added layer of protection for use of a beneficial prescription.
But other say it's a move that might be too little, too late.
Methadone came about during the 1940s. It was created in Germany to make up for a lack of morphine during WWII. Today, it's used in liquid, tablet or injection form to treat chronic pain or reduce the use of and craving for other narcotics.
It was the case for one Ozarks woman, who agreed to share her first-hand account in exchange for anonymity.
"It started with an addiction to pain killers," she says. "Then I was told I needed to go on Methadone and it was the only option for someone like me."
Treatment at Cox Center for Addictions put her in the care of Dr. Mark Carlson. She says he referred her to DRD Springfield Medical Clinic where he serves as Medical Director.
"We can't cure the disease," says Carlson. "But we can help it."
Inside the clinic doors was the answer the former addict says most drug users are looking for.
"My fear was withdrawal," she admits. "But for him to say I needed it, that was what I had dreamed of." But methadone quickly became a nightmare of self-dosing.
"I was allowed to take it home," she says. She says she experienced dangerous weight gain of about 60 pounds in just a few months and started dozing off during everyday activities.
"I would fall asleep for five or ten seconds at a time," she says. "Once I crashed into my dresser and knocked a bunch of things off." When family members found out, there was confrontation.
"He could see things knocked over and said 'I can't watch you kill yourself, mom'," she recalls of a discussion with her son. She decided to get help. Three years of addiction to methadone was undone in 4 weeks of detox. A St. Louis doctor was the only one she could find to assist, as others said her level of addiction was too high to treat.
"It felt like my bones were on fire," she says of coming off Methadone. "It was a very hard time, but one I'm grateful for today."
Not at all thankful for her experience with Methadone is another Ozarks woman, who wanted to remain anonymous for her family's protection.
"Kids are kids," she says. "Whether your child dies at 30 or three, your children are your children." Her adult son was taking prescribed medicine for pain, and Methadone was in the mix.
He had asked his mother to monitor his dosing so he didn't run into problems, but the pills were overpowering him.
"I told him we were going to rehab to get back on track," she says about a conversation with her son. "He didn't disagree. That was on a Saturday. We were going to go on Monday. He died on Sunday."
Complaining of chest pain, her son went to bed for the night, and never woke.
"I'm not sure if he had a heart attack or stopped breathing," says the mother.
Medical experts say either is a reality for patients on methadone. Prescription labels outline those very dangers for the drug that minimizes pain for up to eight hours, but stays in the system much longer, making overdose a serious threat and something health care providers say they monitor.
"There's a huge patient variability," says Terry Barks, a Clinical Information Specialist at St. John's.
Its toxic risk is part of the reason the DEA teamed up with pharmacies to ensure proper distribution of the drug.
"It is very tightly regulated by federal and state government," says Dr. Mark Carlson.
While that regulation aims to crack down on illicit use, local law enforcement officers says the drug is still making its way out of clinics and pharmacies and into the wrong hands.
"Prescription medication in and of itself, we're seeing people abuse and methadone is just one of those," says Lt. David Millsap with Springfield Police Department's Special Investigation Unit.
The CDC tracks those trends. Between 1999 and 2004, Methadone deaths spiked from 786 to 3849. Most of those fatalities were people between age 35 and 54.
The Greene County Medical Examiner's office says it sees a significant number of overdoses, sometimes an average of one a week. Even the Greene County Sheriff's Department recognizes a more prominent problem with Methadone and other pills over the past five years.
The department sees the signs of Methadone addiction on the streets and in jail cells. But once behind bars, the Sheriff's Department says it follows national protocol of treating symptoms of withdrawal rather than dosing more Methadone to inmates.
"It costs about $13 a day to treat an addict," says Barks. "It sometimes keeps them gainfully employed, it's cheaper than incarceration. Society is better off for having clinics than if we did not." But those who have tracked it, taken it, or watched it take someone away are still questioning the delicate balance created by Methadone.
"I was slowly killing myself," says the former addict.
"I had no reason to believe he was going to die," says the mother who found her son dead of an overdose.
"You have to balance it all by the lives you save taking care of the patient," says Dr. Carlson.
Area pharmacists say they're constantly filling prescriptions for Methadone.
Nationally, prescriptions for methadone were up 700% between 1998 and 2006. We asked how many patients are being treated at the local methadone clinic.
Dr. Carlson says giving that kind of information is against his effort to protect patient privacy. However, DRD is the only clinic in this region, so it draws patients from across Southwest Missouri.