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What is methadone used for?

Methadone hydrochloride is a white crystalline powder or colorless crystals. This drug is available in tablet or liquid form. Some methadone tablets are designed to be swallowed, while others are intended to be dissolved first in liquid. But what is methadone used for? How does methadone affect the central nervous system? And when does use become illegal or problematic? We review here and invite your questions about methadone and its use at the end.

Methadone uses

Methadone is a synthetic narcotic or man-made drug. Methadone provides relief for patients who do not respond to non-narcotic pain medicines and has also been used for decades to treat individuals who suffer from addiction on heroin and narcotic pain medicines. It has been legally available in the United States for more than 40 years, and only more recently has it emerged as a drug of abuse. While methadone can trigger tolerance, working with your doctor to figure out  your individual dosing requirements.

Methadone treatment uses

When taken as prescribed, methadone is safe and effective. But all medicines have risks. Patients and healthcare providers need to understand the power and physical effects of methadone in order to get the maximum benefits. Methadone allows individuals to recover from their addiction and to reclaim active and to have meaningful lives.

The term “maintenance” is used in describing opiate substitution programs because the goal is to “maintain” levels of opioids in the system for the purpose of helping him or her avoid the negative and sometimes severe withdrawal symptoms. This type of treatment views addiction as a disease rather than a psychological disorder or character flaw. A number of studies have looked at the effectiveness of methadone programs, and a majority of them have found that methadone can reduce narcotics related deaths, heroin users’ involvement in crime, the spread of AIDS, and also help users gain control of their lives.

Do you feel high on methadone? At proper dosing, no. Methadone should not trigger euphoric effect.  In fact, methadone won’t control a person’s desire to get high, but an adequate dose of methadone should prevent the overwhelming physical need to use street opioids. Methadone maintenance programs intend to do three things for those who participate:

1. Keep the person from going into withdrawal

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2. Keep the person comfortable and free from craving street opioids

3. Block the effects of street opioids

Methadone uses and side effects

Though methadone is primarily used for treating narcotics addiction, users can still experience negative physical effects. Careful monitoring and a close relationship between a doctor and the patient are essential to its proper use. Still, reinforcing effects of methadone are limited, as the drug is designed to block the pleasurable effects of opiates, but only when administered in the correct dosage. Some of the physical and side effects of methadone are:

Short-term methadone side effects:

  • constipation
  • itchy skin
  • nausea
  • pupil contraction
  • restlessness
  • severe sweating
  • sexual dysfunction
  • slowed breathing
  • vomiting

Long-term methadone side effects:

  • lung and respiration problems

Effects of methadone on women:

  • menstrual cycle changes or lapse in cycles
  • pregnancy complications if users reduce dosage levels during pregnancy

Illegal methadone use

Methadone is a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act. While it may legally be used under a doctor’s supervision, its non-medical use is illegal.

Problems with methadone

Methadone is a very strong painkiller. Methadone overdose occurs when someone accidentally or intentionally takes more than the normal or recommended amount of this medication. Methadone overdose can also occur if a person takes methadone with certain painkillers, such as OxyContin, Vicodin, or morphine. Signs of an opioid overdose are:

  • cold, clammy, bluish skin
  • drowsiness
  • reduced heart rate
  • reduced body temperature
  • slowed or no breathing
  • unresponsiveness

In case of methadone overdose:

  1. Immediately call 911 and remain with the person.
  2. Do not force the person to vomit.
  3. Do not make them take a cold shower.
  4. Do not inject salt water into their veins.

Methadone uses questions

Do you still have questions about the use of methadone? Please leave your questions in the comments section below. We’ll do our best to respond to you personally and promptly.

Reference sources: DPT SAMHSA
National Library of Medicine
NHTSA: Methadone
National Institutes of Health
CESAR Fax University of Maryland

Photo credit: NIH

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5 Responses to “What is methadone used for?
Graham Stinnett
9:01 pm May 1st, 2014

I appreciate your detailing methadone uses, treatments and side effects. I feel that many people who are recovering from opiate/opioid addiction often turn to methadone and begin extensive methadone regiments without fully realizing what it is they are signing up for.

I don’t know if you have ever done a post on Suboxone, but I would very much like to see a post of some kind highlighting the similarities and differences between Suboxone and Methadone treatment/usage.

One element that I thought may be lacking in this post however are warnings to the effect of withdrawal from Methadone as opposed to withdrawal from street opiates/opioids. It is my understanding that Methadone withdrawals are particularly nasty and painful as Methadone penetrates into bone marrow. Accordingly, if they can afford to do so, I will recommend that a recovering opiate/opioid addict use Suboxone, and to do so sparingly as well. Of course, if the prescribing doctor is responsible, they will carry out the tapering off process (whether it be Suboxone or Methadone) in conjunction with other treatments (i.e., 12 Step programs, etc.). However, it has been my experience that many recovering addicts are placed on Methadone maintenance programs only to remain on large doses of Methadone for great lengths of time, only delaying the withdrawal process.

Please correct me if I am wrong on any of the above as I am not an expert. I just wanted to voice my related experience! Thanks!

9:22 am May 2nd, 2014

Hello Graham. Thanks for your opinion and suggestion. I’ll look into such a review comparing methadone and buprenorphine to post in the next weeks.

Joy
3:12 pm January 7th, 2015

Thank you for posting all this information regarding Methadone. I am prescribed it for pain control not from an addiction. I had a couple questions, could you email me so I could ask you privately. I do realize you are busy. Thank you again!

doug
4:07 am February 28th, 2015

A Dr. put me on dilaudid over 10 years ago for chronic pain.He started me on 4mg (120) month.@ first I thought it was a miracle cured my pain like nothing else.I then started to become very tolerant and now 10 years later I’m on 120 8mg & 100 4mg monthly.when I first started it my Dr.didn’t warn me about the addictive aspect of this.He acted as though this was the answer or magic bullet.later after being addicted and extremely tolerant,I did find out what I was dealing with.No matter how hard I tried I’d never make it to my next refill I’d be lucky to make it for 2 weeks.then I’d feel like I’m dying until Id get my next refill.I ended up being to sick and in pain I couldn’t function,I lost a great job and sometimes my will to live.Then a friend of mine who is older noticed my gloom.and I was honest with him.He gave me 3 bottles of 10 mg methadone 120 each.I knew it was wrong but I was desperate to get my life back so I tried them(with much research)and I found myself not sick on 40mg. @ one dose & after 4 days I was mannaging my pain on only 4 daily.The cool thing was I didn’t feel that groggy high feeling.I just was pain free and had no urge to take more.I could function again,I felt normal for once in10 years.after 3 months my new freedom was over when I ran out.I didn’t get to sick but pain was terrible.So I had to get back on the hydromorphine I’d stockpiled when I was on methadone.sadly I went through it in just over a month.My Dr had died about a year ago.I told my friend who showed methadone how do you get it I figured it was for heroin addicts.but he told me drs.will treat pain with it.I went to his Dr and he insisted I continue the addictive dilaudid.I’ve studied a few other Drs. that perscribe methadone after checking a couple out its as if they want me miserable no,no,sorry I don’t want to change what you’re Drs.been doing for so long.I even mentioned how I read that dilaudid is 10 times stronger than morphine!!!And Im lucky to get 2 hours of relief from 12 mgs. of it!I never mentioned how I took the methadone behind their backs.just told em I was miserable and studied methadone and thought I’d be better off on something that lasted longer and wasn’t too addictive!Anyone got any ideas for me.Im missing the beautiful time I actually got my life back!

Deborah Schulmeister
8:20 pm May 23rd, 2015

I would like to know if Methadone has Sulpher in it?

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