Methadone was first synthesized—or made—in Germany. It was created during World War II and was meant to replace the supply of morphine from opium after the United States cut off the German supplies that flowed through Turkey.
The U.S. first started studying the drug after the war in 1946 at a hospital in Kentucky. By 1964, clinical research was being conducted to find out if methadone could help those with addictions to morphine.
The reason there was increasing pressure to find a way to use methadone for treatment of addictions to opioids was because in the 1960s, peaking at the end of the decade, heroin-related mortality was the leading cause of death in New York City for adults 15-35! Not to mention that hepatitis was a very common illness that is known to spread by the serum that can be found in the blood. So, sharing needles increases the risk of getting and spreading hepatitis tremendously.
By the late 1970s another major concern was HIV, and it was sweeping the population of heroin users by storm. This led to more pressure to find a way to safely bring people off of opioids—like heroin—that were injected into the bloodstream. The pressure led to study after study that found promising results that methadone could be what is known as a maintenance drug for those needing withdrawal from heroin and struggling with recovery from addiction.
What Is Methadone?
Methadone is what is known as a long-acting opioid agonist. It reduces opioid craving and withdrawal and blunts or blocks the effects of opioids.
Methadone is used to relieve severe pain in those expected to need pain medication around the clock for a long time; this is known as pain management therapy. Methadone is especially helpful for those who cannot be treated with other medications.
More often though, it is used to prevent withdrawal symptoms in patients who were addicted to opioid-based drugs. Generally it is used by those who are enrolled in treatment programs. This helps them to stop taking, or continue not taking the drugs that they are addicted to and may be craving.
It is in a class of medications called opiate (narcotic) analgesics or like we said, opioid agonists. Methadone works to treat pain by changing the way the brain and nervous system respond to pain. It is usually taken daily, and is available in liquid, powder and diskettes forms. Methadone is safe and effective, when taken as prescribed.
Methadone as a medication is specifically tailored for the individual patient (and doses are often adjusted and readjusted regularly over time). This is why it is so important that it is never to be shared with or given to others. This is particularly important for patients who take methadone at home and are not required to take the medication under direct supervision.
Since methadone is a medication and may interact with other medications or cause certain concerns depending on medical history, it is important that care providers know as much as they can about their patients before prescribing or giving methadone. You should share a complete health history with health providers to ensure the safe use of the medication.
Some other medications may interact with methadone, as we said above, and these reactions could ultimately cause heart conditions. Even after the effects of methadone wear off, the medication’s active ingredients remain in the body for much longer. This means that unintentional overdose is possible if someone does not take, or is not taking, methadone as prescribed.
The following tips can help make treatment easier and lead to the best results when using methadone:
- Never use more than the amount prescribed, and always take at the times prescribed.
- Do not consume alcohol while taking methadone.
- Be careful driving or operating machinery on methadone.
- Call 911 if too much methadone is taken or if an overdose is suspected.
- Prevent children and pets from accidental Ingestion by storing it out of reach.
- Do not share your methadone with anyone even if they have similar symptoms or suffer from the same condition.
- Dispose of unused methadone safely.
Methadone was the original drug used for medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for addiction but what does MAT look like now and what is MAT?
What Is MAT?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several different medications to treat alcohol and opioid use disorders. These are known as MAT medications, and they relieve the withdrawal symptoms and cravings that those who struggle with opioid addiction may have.
Medications used for MAT are evidence-based treatment options and do not just substitute one drug for another.
Methadone that is being used to treat those with a confirmed diagnosis of opioid use disorder (OUD) can only be dispensed through a SAMHSA certified provider. This is because like some other medications used in MAT, methadone is considered a controlled substance. Substances are typically controlled due to their potential for misuse.
Drugs, substances, and certain chemicals used to make drugs are classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) into five distinct categories, or schedules, depending upon a drug’s acceptable medical use and potential for misuse. Drugs that are typically scheduled include illegal drugs as well as drugs like hydrocodone and Vicodin®.
Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT) is typically used for opioid-based addictions to substances like:
Opioids in general diminish the body’s perception of pain. However, they can also have an impact on other systems of the body. These alterations include altering mood, slowing breathing, and causing constipation.
Opioid receptor binding causes the signs and symptoms of overdose as well as the euphoric effects or “high” with opioid use. MAT works by acting on the same targets in the brain as heroin and morphine.
Under federal law 42.CFR 8.12, MAT patients receiving treatment in addiction treatment facilities must also receive counseling. Regardless of what setting MAT is provided in, it is more effective when counseling and other behavioral health therapies are included to provide patients with a whole-person approach.
This counseling or therapy may include different forms of behavioral therapy. These services are required along with:
- Other assessment and treatment services
As we mentioned before, a misconception associated with MAT is that it substitutes one drug for another. In reality, these medications relieve withdrawal symptoms and psychological cravings. MAT programs provide a safe and controlled level of medication; this can help overcome use of an abused opioid.
How Is Methadone Used?
Methadone is most commonly taken as a tablet. When methadone is used to relieve pain, it may be taken every 8 to 12 hours. Methadone as part of an addiction treatment program requires a special routine. Your doctor or addiction treatment provider will prescribe the dosing schedule that is best for you.
Follow the directions on your prescription label and always ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain any part that is hard to understand or confusing. Remember, it is important to take methadone exactly as directed.
Your doctor may change your dose of methadone during your treatment. Like we said before, this is common and not a cause for concern. Your doctor may decrease your dose or tell you to take methadone less often as your treatment continues. On the other hand, if you experience pain during your treatment, your doctor may increase your dose. They may also prescribe an additional medication to control your pain.
Be sure to talk to your doctor or addiction treatment provider about how you are feeling during your treatment with methadone. Also, it is important that you do not take extra doses of methadone. Also do not take doses of methadone earlier than they are scheduled, even if you experience pain and think it may help.
Do not stop taking methadone without talking to your doctor or addiction treatment provider.
What Are the Side Effects of Methadone?
Like all medications, there are some side effects that can pop up as a result of using methadone even if you are using it for your addiction treatment. Common side effects of methadone include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Slow breathing
- Itchy skin
- Heavy sweating
- Sexual problems
Side effects should be taken seriously, as some of them may indicate an emergency. Patients should stop taking methadone and contact a doctor or emergency services right away if the side effect is serious. These more serious side effects of methadone include:
- Experiencing difficulty breathing or shallow breathing
- Feeling lightheaded or faint
- Experiencing hives or a rash; swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat
- Feeling chest pain
- Experiencing a fast or pounding heartbeat
- Experiencing hallucinations or confusion
Short Terms Side Effects of Methadone
Using Methadone for a short time can lead to different side effects than when you are using it for an extended time. These include:
- Pain relief and feelings of relaxation
- Pinpoint pupils
- Decreased respiratory rate
- Decreased heart rate
- Mood swings (anxiety or depression)
- Potential for death due to overdose
- Effects associated with taking too much—also known as an overdose—include a decrease in blood pressure, decreased heart rate, significantly reduced breathing or shallow breathing, twitching or tremors, itchy skin, diarrhea, vomiting, cyanosis (a bluish tint to the lips and/or fingernails), extreme lethargy, confusion, and potential comatose state.
Long-Term Side Effects of Methadone
Using methadone over the long term can have side effects as well. In general, these side effects are rare and the doctor or addiction treatment provider that is prescribing your methadone will be aware and tracking these side effects. This is part of why it is important to tell your provider everything that you are experiencing. Some long term effects include:
- Cardiovascular issues
- Respiratory issues as a result of chronically reduced respiration rates
- Menstrual cycle changes in women or sexual dysfunction in men
- Issues with judgment, a tendency to engage in risky behaviors,
- Changes in the brain that are associated with learning and memory
- The development of physical dependence
- The development of an opiate use disorder
Why It Is Important To Take Exactly as Prescribed
Methadone oral tablets are used for short-term treatment. It comes with serious risks if you don’t take it as prescribed. Most of the time, doctors or providers will probably want to decrease the dose gradually. Some may even recommend you attend a Methadone Detox Program. If you suddenly stop taking methadone—or any opioid—you may experience mild withdrawal symptoms such as:
- Teary eyes and runny nose
- Excessive yawning
- Sweating or chills
- Muscle pain
If you stop taking the drug suddenly or don’t take it at all, you may also notice that your pain may not be controlled and you may go through opioid withdrawal. More intense and sometimes more recognized symptoms of withdrawal from methadone include:
- Tearing of your eyes, runny nose, sneezing
- Heavy sweating
- Fever, chills alternating with flushing (reddening and warming of your face or body)
- Irritability, anxiety
- Cramps, body aches
- Involuntary twitching and kicking
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
- Weight loss
If you miss doses or don’t take the drug on schedule, your medication may not work as well or may stop working completely. If you take too much it is possible that you could have dangerous levels of the drug in your body. Symptoms of an overdose of this drug can include:
- Loss of muscle tone
- Cold, clammy skin
- Constricted (small) pupils
- Slow pulse
- Low blood pressure, which may cause dizziness or fainting
- Slowed breathing
- Extreme sedation leading to coma (being unconscious for a long time)
If you think you’ve taken too much of this drug, call your doctor or local poison control center. If your symptoms are severe, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room right away.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Is sweating a side effect of methadone?
Yes, sweating has been seen to be a side effect of methadone, and methadone withdrawal.
What medications interact with methadone?
There are a lot of medications that can interact with methadone, which is part of why it is critical that it only be taken if prescribed and exactly as prescribed
Is sedation a side effect of methadone?
Sedation itself is not a common or normal side effect of methadone. Some people may experience fatigue but sedation would usually only occur as a symptom if there has been an overdose of the methadone. If you think you’ve taken too much of this drug, call your doctor or local poison control center. If your symptoms are severe, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room right away.
Finding Options For Addiction Treatment & Methadone Detox
If you or a loved one has realized they finally need to seek addiction treatment—or you need some help persuade them—give Shadow Mountain Recovery a call today. We have experienced staff that can help combat addiction to any drug, and we specialize in holistic treatment to treat the mind, body, and spirit.
If you or a loved one needs an individualized treatment plan to help with addiction, call Shadow Mountain Recovery today: 855-700-1667.
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