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Doctors’ groundbreaking research led to methadone’s use in treating addiction

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Posted: Saturday, October 27, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 9:12 am, Sat Oct 27, 2012.

While working with addicts in New York, Dr. Vincent Dole and Dr. Marie Nyswander discovered methadone could be used as a replacement for heroin.

When Dole, a Harvard-trained physician, began studying addiction, he found only one book about street addicts, "The Drug Addict as a Patient," written by Nyswander. She had started the Narcotic Addiction Research Project, an experimental outpatient program providing addicts with intensive psychotherapy. In 1957, she helped launch a clinic specializing in the treatment of jazz musicians addicted to heroin.

Dole invited her to join a research project at Rockefeller University in New York City. The couple later married.

They shared the view that heroin addiction is a medically treatable disease, as opposed to a personality or character defect.

Their research eventually focused on methadone, first synthesized in Germany and used as a substitute for morphine. They started treating heroin addicts with methadone in 1964, finding that the drug blocked heroin's rush and instead provided a slow onset, reduced mood swings and offered the chance at a more productive life.

Nyswander died in 1986; Dole died in 2006.

In an obituary on Dr. Dole published in The New York Times, Dr. Mary Jeanne Kreek of Rockefeller University said many thousands of methadone users "now live normal lives; they work, they pay taxes and their possibility of getting AIDS is reduced or eliminated because they are no longer injecting."

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