What is Methadone?

Methadone poured into a cup

If you’re reading this article, then you or someone you know is probably considering undergoing opioid maintenance treatment/therapy (OMT.) There are several drugs that are commonly used for opioid maintenance therapy, and methadone (Dolophine) is one of the most commonly prescribed ones.

Methadone can be a lifesaver for people struggling with addictions to opioids, particularly those who struggle with illegal opioids. However, it’s important to know that methadone comes with its own set of dangers and risks. We’ve written this article to educate you about the benefits of methadone and the steps you can take to avoid any dangerous repercussions.

So what exactly is methadone?

Methadone is a long-lasting synthetic drug from the opioid family. The opioid family includes any drugs that activate the body’s opioid receptors. The body has opioid receptors throughout the nervous system and the brain, and both sets of receptors provide significant effects when they’re stimulated.

Some drugs cannot penetrate the blood-brain barrier, and these drugs, like loperamide (Imodium) only affect the body. However, methadone is very much able to pass through the blood-brain barrier, and it has a significant profile of effects on both the brain and body. Some of methadone’s most common effects are:

  • Pain relief
  • Anxiety relief
  • Euphoria
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Weight gain

Methadone, when administered medicinally, is typically taken orally. Methadone clinics are clinics dedicated to providing people who struggle with opioid addictions a daily dose of methadone. New patients must take their dose at the clinic to prevent the chance of abuse or resale.

While methadone is often used for opioid maintenance therapy, it can also provide long-lasting pain relief. It is sometimes used in clinical situations where other opioids such as morphine or fentanyl have adverse effects.

When will I know if I need methadone treatment?

Assuming that you’re interested in this drug for the purpose of opioid maintenance therapy, there are a few things that would indicate your need for methadone maintenance.

  • If you’ve struggled with addiction to illegal opioids and have failed to go clean through traditional rehabilitation services, you may want to consider methadone maintenance.
  • If your addiction has led you to do anything illegal or immoral, you may want to consider methadone maintenance.
  • If your addiction is so severe that the withdrawals will be intolerable and you aren’t able to wean yourself down, you may want to consider methadone maintenance.

Methadone is good for people in these situations because it allows them to avoid to illicit activity that’s typically involved in illegal drug use. Many illegal drug users have to resort to crime or unethical activity to support their habits. They are also more likely to lose their employment and housing due to the precedence addiction takes in their lives.

Methadone maintenance allows these people to get their regular dose of opioid as a prescribed medication. This means that they’ll be able to restructure their lives without having to do so in the middle of withdrawal. Once they’ve developed a normal lifestyle and have reintegrated into society, they can gradually wean off methadone at their doctor’s discretion.

Is methadone safe?

While many people have successfully used methadone maintenance treatment to help them with their opioid addictions, there are also many people who have fallen victim to some of methadone’s more dangerous side effects. Most often, these people are either using methadone illicitly, or have been given methadone by a doctor who is uneducated about how to properly use it.

It is best to get your methadone through a specialized methadone clinic. The doctors at these clinics are specially educated to understand opioids and opioid addiction, and can serve you better. While standard physicians can prescribe methadone, they will generally have less of an understanding about its side effects and the proper dosages to prescribe.

Even with a proper scheduled dose, methadone can cause a number of adverse effects. If you experience any of the following you should talk to the doctor who prescribed you methadone.

  • Flushing
  • Excessive sweating
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Extreme nausea or vomiting
  • Disorientation
  • Difficulty concentration
  • Difficulty walking
  • Low blood pressure
  • Hallucinations
  • Headaches
  • Extreme weight gain
  • Mood changes
  • Seizures
  • Rashes
  • Sleep apnea

Methadone has also been indicated to cause damage to the teeth and bones.

Methadone withdrawal

Another concern for those using methadone is that of withdrawal. Methadone withdrawal is generally considered to be much longer, protracted, and potentially more severe than withdrawal from other opioids. This is because methadone has a very long half-life - the amount of time it takes for half of your last methadone dose to be excreted.

Because of this it’s considered essential to wean your dose of methadone down as much as possible before ‘jumping off.’ Withdrawal can also be managed at a medical facility, where you will be provided with temporary doses of other medication like benzodiazepines to ease the stress.

Withdrawal symptoms can include all of the following:

  • Sweating
  • Restless legs
  • Irritation
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Excessive yawning
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Runny nose
  • Tremors
  • High blood pressure
  • High sensitivity to pain

Methadone overdose

While methadone is used to get people off of other opioids, it is still capable of causing overdoses. This happens most often when people buy methadone on the streets, since it can be very difficult to dose.

Methadone overdose may be indicated by any of the following.

  • Respiratory depression
  • Coma
  • Nonresponsiveness
  • Extreme vomiting
  • Limp muscles

If you suspect that someone is overdosing on methadone, call an ambulance immediately. If you have a take-home naloxone kit for rectifying overdoses, use this first, and then call the ambulance.

In conclusion

Methadone is a very powerful drug that’s helped a lot of people who struggled with opioid addictions. It’s also very addictive and needs to be used with the sanction and supervision of a medical practitioner, preferably one who specializes in opioids and opioid addicts.

The list of side effects that methadone can produce is extensive, but if used properly and for a short time, it can be an immense help.