When it comes to addictive substances, even useful medications can be harmful in and of themselves. Nowhere is this more the case than with methadone, the powerful opioid medication used for maintenance therapy and detoxification for folks who are grappling with heroin addiction.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has included methadone on its List of Essential Medicines, an inventory of the most effective and safest medicines needed in a health system. Yet, this safe and effective medicine has also been a drug of abuse for many years. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) determined that 346,000 people misused methadone in 2016, which accounted for .1 percent of the population at the time.
What’s more, the number of methadone-related emergency department (ED) visits jumped by 48 percent between 2006 and 2011 — from 45,130 to 66,870. While methadone isn’t abused nearly as much as other opiates and opioids like fentanyl, heroin or oxycodone, it is still a potent substance that has the power to produce addiction.
Like any other opioid, methadone still can produce a euphoric and mellowing high that is extremely addictive. Even more troubling is the fact that methadone overdose can be fatal.
What is Methadone?
Methadone is an old-guard medication that has existed for generations. Its chemical structure was first developed in 1930 by a team of German scientists who were looking to produce a less addictive alternative to morphine.
It wasn’t until 1947 that methadone was introduced to the U.S. as a pain reliever under the trade name Dolophine.
However, its true use would not be realized until more than a decade later when researchers discovered that it was effective in treating drug withdrawal symptoms and cravings in users.
This was particularly evident with the spike in heroin use in the 1960s. In 1972, the federal government officially established methadone as an approved treatment for heroin addiction. In 2001, Congress released federal regulations that sought to improve methadone treatment programs.
To this day, methadone is used to treat opioid use disorders. It comes as a tablet, solution, or dispersible that dissolves in liquid. In the U.S., it is sold under the brand names of Dolophine, Diskets, and Methadose.
How it Works
Like other drugs of its class, methadone acts on the opioid receptors in the brain. As a maintenance treatment agent, methadone eliminates opioid withdrawal symptoms and satiates drug cravings. Because it acts more slowly than other drugs of its class, a dependent person will not experience the euphoria that other opioids produce.
Methadone also possesses a long half-life (around 15 to 55 hours), which makes it suited to be employed in maintenance and weaning during detox. Its pain-relieving properties may last for up to eight hours, and it can prevent a user from experiencing withdrawal symptoms for up to two days.
There is a downside to this medication. When abused for recreational purposes, methadone can produce euphoric effects. For heroin users who are already prone to addiction, it has the power to lock them into a cycle of unrelenting abuse. That addiction typically comes by way of tolerance, dependence, and overdose.
Though methadone still has a legitimate medical purpose, it also has several street names that hint at its illicit use. Dollies, dolls, mud, phy amps, red rock, tootsie roll, amidone, fizzies, balloons, breaze, burdock, buzz bomb, cartridges, jungle juice, and junk are several of the nicknames it goes by.
The adverse effects of the drug, including the harrowing overdose symptoms that come with its use, also reveal just how dangerous it can be when abused.
How Methadone Overdose Happens
Methadone is still a potent painkiller that can be toxic in large amounts. The amount that produces an overdose varies by the individual user. When a methadone overdose occurs, it can have devastating and far-reaching effects on the body, impacting the heart, lungs, nervous system, stomach, skin, and the eyes.
A methadone overdose can kill you.
Short of that, Here are the Overdose Symptoms that Methadone Produces:
- Low blood pressure
- Weak pulse
- Slow or no breathing
- Fatigue or weakness
- Muscle spasms
- Nausea and vomiting
- Clammy Skin
- Blue fingernails and lips
- Dilated pupils
How to Prevent a Methadone Overdose
If you are a patient on methadone, it is critical that you continue to take your doctor’s advice and follow dosage guidelines carefully. The active ingredients of methadone can remain long after its effects wear off. Thus, taking more methadone can lead to an unintentional overdose, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
SAMHSA Also Recommends the Following Tips, Which Can Help Prevent an Overdose:
- Never use more than the amount prescribed, and always take the medication at the times prescribed. If a dose is missed, or if it feels like it’s not working, do not take an extra dose of methadone.
- Do not consume alcohol while taking methadone.
- Be careful driving or operating machinery while on methadone.
- Call 911 if too much methadone is taken or if an overdose is suspected.
- Take steps to prevent children from accidentally taking methadone.
- Store methadone at room temperature and away from light.
- Dispose of unused methadone by flushing it down the toilet.
This message is particularly important for patients who have been permitted to take methadone at home and not under an opioid treatment program.
What’s more, methadone is specifically tailored to an individual patient. Thus, it should never be shared or given to other users. Also, it is vital that methadone patients share their entire medical history with health care providers to ensure safe usage.
It’s worth noting that methadone dependency is established when cessation of the medication, usually 24 to 30 hours after the last dose, produces a host of symptoms. The physical and emotional symptoms that come from methadone withdrawal include:
- Stomach cramps
- Muscle aches
- Fever and sweating
- Racing heart rate
- Elevated blood pressure
- Breathing issues
- Back, bone, and joint pain
- Watery eyes
- Dilated pupils
Methadone Addiction Treatment: A Safeguard Against Overdose
Perhaps you have already overdosed on methadone once or on multiple occasions, where a medically and professionally supervised treatment process can provide you the only way out.
Whatever the case, a legitimate professional treatment program can provide you with the appropriate care and evidence-based treatment that can help you achieve sobriety and reclaim your life.
The safest, most comfortable path to recovery starts with medical detoxification. During this phase, you will be provided with medications to manage withdrawal symptoms and any medical emergencies should they arise.
Our licensed staff will provide around-the-clock care and supervision to ensure that your detox is safe, comfortable, and successful. For methadone, detox typically lasts up to a week or longer, if needed.
Severe cases of methadone addiction can take up to two weeks. Throughout this process, our staff will evaluate and assess your case to determine the best treatment option going forward.
For a methadone addiction, the most effective option after detox is a stay at a residential treatment facility where you can continue to receive comprehensive, ongoing care.
In residential treatment, you will receive counseling and therapy that explore the psychological roots of your addiction. Clients typically stay in residential treatment anywhere between 30 to 60 days and have access to a range of therapies, including:
- Group therapy: Group therapy sessions will provide you the support to know you are not alone in your addiction recovery journey.
- Individual therapy: You will receive personalized treatment to address the emotional issues that contribute to addiction.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: With cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), you will receive treatment that addresses the negative thoughts and actions associated with addiction. At this stage, you will learn practical strategies and skills to combat old habits.
- Dialectical behavioral therapy: With dialectical behavioral therapy, you will learn about the triggers that lead to substance abuse.
- Motivational interviewing: In motivational interviewing, you will not only identify key issues, but you will also learn how to think positively and embrace changes that can improve your life.
- Mindfulness: With this approach, you will learn how to incorporate meditation and mindfulness into your daily life.
- Family therapy: Addiction is often described as a family disease. Family therapy will help you heal some of those wounds together with your relatives.
- Aftercare planning: To ensure your after-treatment success, you will go through aftercare planning, which helps to prevent relapse.
After your stay in residential treatment, our staff will connect you to a range of outpatient services that can provide additional support as you recover.
Opioids and Methadone Abuse Statistics
- Methadone accounted for nearly 1 in 4 prescription opioid-related deaths in 2014, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- There were 3,400 methadone overdose deaths in 2014, according to the CDC.
According to SAMHSA, there were 66,870 emergency department visits for the non-medical use of methadone in 2011.