What Is Methadone?

Methadone is a medicine that is used to treat addiction and dependence on opioid drugs such as Vicodin, OxyContin and heroin. Methadone does not produce a “high” or the same euphoric effect as abused opioids do which helps patients avoid relapse during their recovery. Methadone has been in use since it was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1947. It is available in pill form, but is most often administered through a small plastic cup that the patient drinks at the clinic.

Methadone can be administered orally in pill form, by injection into a muscle or vein, intravenously and through a devise that sends methadone through the skin. The most effective method of administration for opiate addiction treatment is through the skin. Methadone patients must visit a clinic once or twice a day to inject or drink their doses of methadone. A patient must wait at least 24 hours after his/her last dose of heroin before starting treatment with methadone, and may begin taking methadone only after a medical examination and a gradually-reduced period of opioid use. Otherwise, the patient may experience withdrawal symptoms that could be severe enough to cause death.

How it works

Methadone works by attaching to the opioid receptor sites in the brain. These are the same kinds of receptors that prescription pain medications and heroin attach to as well. In doing so, methadone blocks other opioids from attaching to those receptors thus blunting withdrawal symptoms and cravings. This is important because individuals who suffer from addiction to opioids often have extremely unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms include abdominal pain, muscle aches and cramping, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Methadone can also help prevent relapse because it does not produce the same euphoric effects as opioid drugs like Vicodin or OxyContin do.

What are the side effects?

Methadone is generally safe and effective in treating addiction and dependence to other opioids. However, methadone does carry a risk of side effects that can be dangerous if not monitored closely by a physician. In addition to blocking other opioid drugs from attaching to receptors, methadone also activates the same types of receptors which creates the side-effects associated with this class of drugs. Common side effects include dizziness, drowsiness, nausea and vomiting. In addition, methadone is a respiratory depressant meaning it can slow breathing which may be dangerous for patients who have other medical problems such as asthma or heart failure.

Concomitant use of alcohol with methadone can cause increased sedation but impairment is less than that seen with concurrent use of methadone and other CNS depressants. Methadone, like many psychiatric medications can cause weight gain. Because it is often used for pain management patients who are on chronic pain therapy may become tolerant to the analgesic effects over time. Physicians should be aware that chronic use of methadone in patients with chronic pain is unlikely to be effective in treating their pain. Overdose can occur if the methadone dosage is too high or if other CNS depressants are taken at the same time including alcohol, benzodiazepines, phenothiazines and barbiturates. Clinical signs of an overdose may include shallow breathing, pinpoint pupils, hypotension, bradycardia and death.

What are the side effects of withdrawal?

As is the case with most opioid drugs, stopping methadone without medical supervision can be dangerous. Clinical signs of withdrawal may include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps (“cold turkey”). Additional effects that may be seen include irritability, anxiety, weakness and body aches, rhinorrhea, panic attacks, hypertension and rapid heart rate. Methadone withdrawal can be very uncomfortable but will not cause brain damage or an overdose.

It is very important that patients who wish to stop using methadone do so slowly under the supervision of a physician. When stopping methadone treatment for opioid addiction the dose should be tapered down slowly over a period of several weeks to avoid the severe withdrawal symptoms described above. In conclusion, Methadone is a very useful drug that can help patients as they cope with opioid addiction. It should be administered only under the direction of a physician who understands its potential dangers and benefits. If you are interested, call us today at 954-523-1167 and get started. Our counselors are available at any time.