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Methadone Side Effects, Specifics, Usage, Severe Effects, Overdose, Addiction, Withdrawal & Treatment Options

What is Methadone?

Methadone is a long-acting synthetic opioid painkiller that is often used to treat individuals who suffer from addiction to opioid drugs, such as heroin or prescription painkillers. When taken as prescribed, methadone can be very useful in treating opiate addiction, but it too can be addictive, as it is still an opiate.

When used as a treatment to wean individuals off other drugs of addiction, methadone prescriptions and use are closely supervised by medical professionals. However, due to the cost of many prescription painkillers and the relatively low cost of methadone, doctors have been prescribing methadone as a long-acting painkiller for chronic pain for years. This has allowed more people exposure to methadone than before, including numerous individuals who have not been exposed to opioid medications in the past. This exposure has caused a rise in addictions to methadone, as well as easier access to methadone as a recreationally abused substance.

How Does Methadone Work?

Methadone works on the brain by binding to the same receptors as other opioid drugs like heroin or OxyContin. Since methadone remains in the body for a long time – typically 1-3 days – it helps to block euphoric effects of other opiate drug abuse and lessen painful symptoms of withdrawal from these drugs.

Because methadone is such a long-acting drug, designed to ease symptoms in people addicted to heroin for 1-2 days, it can build up quickly in the body and remain in the bloodstream for a long time. It is important for individuals with methadone prescriptions to use this medication exactly as prescribed, and do not adjust their dose without a doctor’s advice and oversight. It is easy to overdose on methadone due to the strength of one dose.

Methadone side effects
Along with its needed effects, this medication may cause some unwanted methadone side effects.

What Is Methadone Used For?

Since the 1970s in the US, methadone clinics and methadone maintenance have been promoted as ways for people who struggle with heroin addiction to avoid the worst withdrawal symptoms while preventing relapse. Today, methadone is still used under close medical supervision to help people suffering from opioid addiction ease through the withdrawal process.

However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2009, methadone contributed to one in three prescription painkiller deaths. As stated above, doctors sometimes prescribe this long-acting drug to treat chronic pain from multiple sclerosis, cancer, or injuries. Legitimate use via a prescription can turn into abuse as tolerance develops. Once abuse starts, addiction can quickly take hold.

Methadone side effects requiring immediate medical attention

Along with its needed effects, this medication may cause some unwanted methadone side effects. Although not all of these methadone side effects may occur, if they do occur they may need medical attention. Check with your doctor immediately if any of the following methadone side effects occur while taking methadone:

Methadone Side Effects
Some methadone side effects may occur that usually do not need medical attention. These methadone side effects may go away during treatment as your body adjusts to the medicine.
  • Black, tarry stools
  • Bleeding gums
  • Blood in the urine or stools
  • Blurred vision
  • Bulging soft spot on the head of an infant
  • Change in the ability to see colors, especially blue or yellow
  • Changes in skin color
  • Chest discomfort or pain
  • Confusion
  • Cough
  • Coughing that sometimes produces a pink frothy sputum
  • Darkening of the skin
  • Decreased urine output
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficult, fast, noisy breathing
  • Difficulty with swallowing
  • Dilated neck veins
  • Dizziness
  • Dizziness, faintness, or lightheadedness when getting up suddenly from a lying or sitting position
  • Dry mouth
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Unusual bleeding or bruising
  • Unusual tiredness or weakness
  • Weight gain
  • Fainting
  • Fast, slow, or irregular heartbeat
  • Headache
  • Hives, itching, or skin rash
  • Increased sweating
  • Increased thirst
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Irregular, fast or slow, or shallow breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mental depression
  • Muscle pain or cramps
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands, feet, or lips
  • Pain
  • Pale or blue lips, fingernails, or skin
  • Pinpoint red spots on the skin
  • Puffiness or swelling of the eyelids or around the eyes, face, lips, or tongue
  • Seizures
  • Sweating
  • Swelling of the face, fingers, feet, or lower legs
  • Tenderness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Trouble urinating

Methadone Side Effects and Overdose Symptoms

  • Change in consciousness
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Constricted, pinpoint, or small pupils (black part of the eye)
  • Coughing that sometimes produces a pink frothy sputum
  • Decreased awareness or responsiveness
  • Slow or irregular heartbeat
  • Increased sweating
  • Irregular, fast, or slow, or shallow breathing
  • Loss of consciousness
  • No muscle tone or movement
  • Pale or blue lips, fingernails, or skin
  • Sleepiness or unusual drowsiness
  • Swelling in the legs and ankles

Methadone side effects not requiring immediate medical attention

Some methadone side effects may occur that usually do not need medical attention. These methadone side effects may go away during treatment as your body adjusts to the medicine. Also, your health care professional may be able to tell you about ways to prevent or reduce some of these methadone side effects. Check with your health care professional if any of the following methadone side effects continue or are bothersome or if you have any questions about them:

  • Absent, missed, or irregular menstrual periods
  • Anxiety
  • Blurred or loss of vision
  • Confusion about identity, place, and time
  • Constipation
  • Decreased interest in sexual intercourse
  • Disturbed color perception
  • Double vision
  • False or unusual sense of well-being
  • Halos around lights
  • Irritability
  • Lack or loss of strength
  • Loss in sexual ability, desire, drive, or performance
  • Night blindness
  • Overbright appearance of lights
  • Redness, swelling, or soreness of the tongue
  • Restlessness
  • Stopping of menstrual bleeding
  • Tunnel vision
  • Weight changes
  • Welts
  • Inability to have or keep an erection

Methadone Abuse and Addiction

Because many individuals receive prescriptions for strong painkillers every year, more and more people find themselves suffering from addiction to prescription pain medications. These are often oxycodone- or hydrocodone-based medication, such as Vicodin, Percocet, or OxyContin. Lawmakers and regulators now say that prescription pain medications are over-prescribed for problems that may not be fixed by this medication, such as chronic back pain, or they are prescribed in large quantities for post-surgery pain treatment.

Although the Food and Drug Administration does not recommend methadone as a prescription painkiller for these types of pain, over 4 million prescriptions were written for methadone in 2009. The rise in methadone prescriptions, specifically for use as a painkiller, is due to the fact that methadone is cheap, especially compared to hydrocodone and oxycodone. Insurance companies are sometimes more willing to cover the cost of methadone instead of brand-name opioid painkillers, and that has driven many people to switch their prescriptions to methadone.

Because methadone is designed to be a long-acting drug, it can build up very quickly in the body, and that can mean that taking even one more dose than prescribed can lead to an overdose. Unless carefully monitored by a medical professional, methadone use is dangerous, and abuse or addiction can lead to very serious consequences.

Methadone Side Effects
Your health care professional may be able to tell you about ways to prevent or reduce some of the methadone side effects.

Methadone’s half-life, depending on dose, ranges anywhere from 8 to 59 hours, while the analgesic, or painkilling, effects last up to 8 hours. The long half-life benefits those in recovery from heroin or prescription painkiller addiction, as it stays in the body to ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings. However, this means it is less effective for treating chronic pain conditions related to diseases, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, or osteoarthritis, because the painkilling effects do not last as long as the drug remains in the body. As a result, individuals who take methadone as a painkiller can put themselves in danger of an overdose if their pain returns before they can safely take their next dose.

Methadone Side effects and Abuse

As methadone has increasingly been used to treat pain, not just opioid addiction, more of this long-acting opiate has become available to people who abuse drugs. Much like the wide availability of hydrocodone or oxycodone, people who abuse opiate drugs can more easily find methadone by stealing it from friends or family, or by buying it illegally. Illegal selling of a prescription medication is called diversion, and it is the leading cause of the opioid drug abuse epidemic in the US.

When an individual abuses this medication for recreational purposes, the person is at a much higher risk of developing an addiction to methadone. In addition, the person is at a very high risk of overdosing on the drug.

Methadone side effects and withdrawal

Since methadone was originally designed for use in treating heroin addiction, and it is used in treating all kinds of opioid addictions, its symptoms of withdrawal are less severe and do not set in as quickly as with other opiates. This is because methadone stays in the body in some form for 1-3 three days. Though less severe, withdrawal symptoms from methadone are similar to withdrawal symptoms from other opioid drugs. They include:

  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Fever or chills
  • Sweating
  • Tremors or shaking
  • Muscle aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anxiety or irritability
  • Depression
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Tachycardia

Treatment for Methadone Addiction

Whether the person started abusing methadone recreationally or began using the medication as part of an opioid addiction treatment regime, treatment for methadone addiction requires both medical detox and comprehensive therapy.

Since methadone is an opioid, medical detox is always required to withdraw from the drug. In some instances, individuals will be gradually tapered off methadone, whereas individuals may be switched to another medication, such as buprenorphine, in other instances. Medications that may be used during treatment include:

  • Buprenorphine: A semisynthetic narcotic, buprenorphine was the first medication approved by the FDA to treat opioid addictions with more flexibility. Whereas methadone is highly regulated and patients must visit clinics for their daily doses, buprenorphine can be prescribed for take-home dosages. This prescription drug does have some similarities to methadone and other opioid drugs, meaning there is some potential for abuse or addiction, but it is viewed to have less abuse potential than methadone.
  • L-alpha-acetylmethadol (LAAM): This medication is a Schedule II substance that is often used in opioid addiction treatment. Like buprenorphine, LAAM is an alternative to methadone therapy. It can therefore be helpful for individuals who are struggling with methadone addiction. There are a number of side effects associated with this medication, especially when used on a long-term basis, including rash, nausea, increased blood pressure, and abnormal liver function.
  • Psychiatric medications: There are many psychological and emotional effects associated with withdrawal and recovery. Medications to treat depression or anxiety can be used with careful oversight to treat these effects. These are typically administered with a psychiatrist’s prescription in addition to individual and/or group therapy treatment.
Methadone Side Effects
Some methadone side effects may occur that usually do not need medical attention. Treatment for methadone addiction requires both medical detox and comprehensive therapy.

Reclaim Your Life From Methadone Side Effects of Abuse

Methadone addiction is a chronic disease that can cause major methadone side effects that should not be taken lightly. We Level Up California can provide to you, or someone you love, the tools to recover from this condition with a professional and safe detox process. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.