Battling addiction and ready for treatment?
What Is Methadone?
Methadone is a prescription medication to help with addiction treatment for opiate abuse and can also be utilized as a maintenance medication during recovery from opiate addiction.
A synthetic opioid agonist, methadone eliminates the euphoric effects one might feel from taking any opioid drug by blocking the opioid receptors of the brain.
In addition to working as part of an addiction treatment plan, doctors may prescribe methadone for moderate to severe pain.
However, methadone has become a less common choice than other opioid medications (i.e., oxycodone, hydrocodone) for pain treatment.
Methadone is available in powder, liquid, or diskette.
Methadone and Public Health
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of methadone to treat opioid use disorder. Methadone is safe if prescribed by a physician and can help those recovering from opioid dependence to lead active, stable lives.
Evidence shows that methadone and other opioid addiction medications (e.g., buprenorphine and naltrexone) not only reduce opioid use but also decrease the potential for other risk-taking behaviors associated with drug abuse.
Methadone is a Schedule II drug because it still carries the potential for abuse and dependence. Methadone dependence often must be treated by medical and mental health professionals.
Methadone Abuse and Addiction
Methadone is used effectively to reduce cravings due to opioid dependence. It is also highly regulated in a clinical setting. Patients are often required to come to the clinic to receive their daily dose of methadone.
Methadone abuse occurs when a person does not take methadone as prescribed, such as taking more than their daily dose or consuming methadone without a prescription.
Once addicted, those with methadone use disorder must take increasing amounts to achieve the same effect.
Methadone Side Effects
When taken as prescribed, methadone can have very few side effects. Methadone is even approved to be taken when pregnant or breastfeeding.
However, patients are strongly encouraged to not only take methadone as directed but to avoid mixing it with other medications, such as benzodiazepines (such as Xanax), due to the dangerous drug interactions that can occur.
Common side effects of methadone can include:
- Itchy skin
- Dry mouth
- Sexual problems
- Nausea or vomiting
- Heavy sweating
- Sedation (i.e., drowsiness or unconsciousness)
- Slow or shallow breathing (i.e., respiratory depression)
- Decreased body temperature
- Extremely low blood pressure
Of course, the risk of side effects increases if the individual abuses methadone.
Taking methadone as directed by a health professional can be beneficial when recovering from heroin addiction or other opiate misuse. However, even methadone maintenance treatment comes with some specific cautions.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends taking the following precautions:
- Do not share your methadone prescription with anyone
- Take only what is directed; do not skip or double up on doses
- Do not consume alcohol or mix methadone with other medications (such as benzodiazepines)
- Be careful when driving or operating heavy machinery
- Call 911 for a suspected overdose
Once someone takes more methadone than their body can metabolize, it can lead to overdose and death.
Signs and symptoms of a methadone overdose include the following:
- Slow breathing
- Blue lips or fingernails
- Clammy skin
- Weak pulse
In the event of a methadone overdose, take these steps:
- Call 911 and follow the instructions of the operator
- If the person is unconscious, turn them to their side to make it easier to breathe
- Administer naloxone (NARCAN®) if it is available
- Stay with the overdose victim until medical help arrives
Methadone Addiction Treatment
Like any opioid use disorder, methadone addiction requires a specialized treatment program tailored to your needs.
Factors such as the length of time abusing methadone, the amount of methadone taken, and even co-occurring mental illness can influence your treatment plan.
Treatment options for opioid addiction can be complicated since methadone treatment is often used to combat other opioid addictions, so it’s best to talk to your doctor or similar addiction healthcare provider to assess your available treatment options.
Medical Detox for Methadone
In many cases, individuals with a methadone addiction will require a medical detox.
Depending on the severity of withdrawal symptoms, the individual may need to check into a specialized detox facility (or qualifying inpatient rehab program) so that staff can monitor their vitals. However, in many cases, the medical detox can occur outpatient.
Methadone withdrawal is not generally life-threatening, but it is not recommended to go through the process alone. When you work with a healthcare professional, they can slowly reduce your methadone dose to minimize withdrawal symptoms.
When you stop using methadone, you may experience the following withdrawal symptoms:
- Abdominal cramps
- Muscle tremors
Methadone Rehab Programs
Finding an effective methadone rehab program is a high priority after detox.
Most methadone addiction rehab programs will offer therapy (group and/or individual counseling) alongside medical treatment to help you expedite your recovery and transition back into a more productive life.
The following types of rehab are what most people can generally expect to choose from when selecting a methadone rehab program:
- Inpatient Rehab Program: Also known as residential rehab, inpatient rehab programs offer 24-hour supervision and care for people recovering from methadone addiction. Typically, inpatient rehab programs require a 30- to 90-day commitment. A ty
- Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP): A Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) is an outpatient drug rehab program. Patients receive much of the same treatment and support as they would from a residential methadone rehab but can return home to their families, go to work, and resume their lives at the end of each day.
- Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP): An Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is often recommended for those with less severe methadone addictions. An IOP is less intense than a PHP but still involves a time commitment from participants. Programs last anywhere from 90 days to 16 weeks, depending on each person’s needs. Most attend a support group during and after treatment.
Methadone Addiction Statistics
In 2014, methadone accounted for 23% of prescription opioid deaths but only represented 1% of opioids prescribed, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports.
Additionally, CDC data shows that:
- Up to a third of prescription painkiller deaths involve methadone
- Nearly 5,000 people die of overdoses related to methadone. Additionally, 6 times as many people died from methadone overdoses in 2009 than ten years prior.
Thankfully, instances of methadone overdose actually decreased between January 2019 and August 2021.
The use of methadone for opioid use disorder does prove to be beneficial when it is taken as directed. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports: “Patients on methadone had 33% fewer opioid-positive drug tests and were 4.44 times more likely to stay in treatment.”
Find Treatment and Support for Methadone Addiction
Too many people stuck in an addiction battle feel they are on their own.
If you are currently addicted to methadone or know someone with a methadone use disorder, know that help is available and may be closer than you think.
Check out the SAMHSA’s online treatment locator or call them at 1-800-662-4357 (HELP). Their free, confidential service provides treatment information and referrals for different types of methadone addiction treatment and support.
Get Help for Valium Addiction
If you have become addicted to methadone, help is available: Learn more about treatment and therapy options for methadone addiction.
Methadone Addiction FAQs
Is methadone a high-risk drug?
Methadone is NOT defined as a high-risk drug. However, as with any opioid medication, methadone still carries some risk of leading to dependence and addiction. It should only be taken as directed by your doctor.
Is methadone a safe addiction treatment?
Yes, methadone is considered a safe and successful treatment for addiction (specifically opioid use disorder). However, it is becoming less common for doctors to prescribe methadone as medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder.
Doctors tend to favor buprenorphine and naltrexone for treating opioid addiction, as these drugs have lower rates of addiction and dependence.
What is the difference between methadone and other opiates?
Methadone is a long-acting opioid that releases much more slowly in the body than other opiates (like heroin or fentanyl).
Methadone can last up to 36 hours in the body, making it a good opioid alternative for people tapering their opiate usage under medical supervision.
Does physical dependence continue when using methadone?
Yes, your body remains physically dependent on opioids while you take methadone. Methadone treatment is also known as opioid replacement therapy, where a less potent opiate is used to wean your body off stronger prescription painkillers.
What is the origin of methadone?
In World War II, German scientists created methadone to counteract a morphine shortage. Early methadone (Dolophine®) was first prescribed for pain relief in the United States in 1947.
Methadone was first used to counteract drug addiction in New York as part of an opioid treatment program during the 1960s.