What is methadone used for?

Methadone is used to treat individuals who suffer from addiction on heroin and narcotic pain medicines or as a pain reliever. More on its legal, illegal, and problematic uses here.

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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

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
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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