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What Is Methadone?

Methadone is part of a category of drugs called opioids. This powerful drug was created by German doctors during World War II and was then used in the United States to treat people with intense pain. These days the drug may be used as part of a treatment program for an addiction to heroin or narcotic painkillers. Although the drug is safer than most other narcotics, doctors must keep a close watch while patients are taking methadone – taking it can lead to addiction or abuse.

What is Methadone Used For

Methadone alters the way the human brain and nervous system respond to pain, giving relief. The impact of methadone is slower than those of other potent painkillers like morphine. Doctors may prescribe methadone if a patient is experiencing a lot of pain from an injury, surgery, or long-term illness. The drug’s mechanism is similar to cocaine; it functions by blocking the high from drugs like codeine, heroin, hydrocodone, morphine, and oxycodone. Methadone can prevent patients from experiencing withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings. Patients prescribed methadone may have heard their treatment called “replacement therapy”. It is important to note that a methadone prescription is just one part of a quality treatment plan. Methadone alone is not a cure for addiction.

Of course, a prescription is necessary to get methadone, and physicians will prescribe the appropriate dose that will work best for each individual patient. Patients should not be worried if their physician changes their dose during treatment. Following the dosage instructions precisely is essential – it’s never a good idea to abruptly terminate taking methadone without talking to a physician. Health professionals advise that patients prescribed methadone to treat addiction should use it for at least a year while they work on their recovery. After the appropriate amount of time, a doctor will help the patient stop usage slowly to prevent withdrawal.

Methadone comes in many forms; tablet, powder, and liquid forms. If your doctor prescribes tablets that are “dispersible”, dissolve all or part of the tablet in liquid (usually water or citrus-flavored drinks) and swallow it all.

Unfortunately, some people take methadone illegally, meaning without a prescription. Most of these individuals inject the drug, which can expose them to diseases like HIV and hepatitis C.

Methadone Side Effects

Methadone’s usual side effects vary. During short-term use, methadone users may notice side effects such as:

  • Restlessness
  • Upset stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Repressed breathing
  • Itchy skin
  • Intense sweating
  • Constipation
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Weight gain
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Appetite alterations
  • Headache
  • Stomach pain
  • Dry mouth
  • Flushing
  • Mood changes
  • Vision problems

More serious side effects include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fainting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Hives
  • Rash
  • Swollen lips, tongue, throat, or face
  • Chest pain
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • A raspy voice
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Severe drowsiness
  • Unusual menstrual periods

If any of these serious side effects surface, you should call your doctor immediately. Some individuals should refrain from methadone completely if they suffer from or experience:

  • A heart rhythm disorder
  • Heart disease
  • An electrolyte imbalance
  • Breathing problems
  • Lung disease
  • A history of head injury, brain tumor, or seizures
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Gallbladder, pancreas, and thyroid problems
  • Any condition which requires patients to take sedatives
  • Drugs that can affect methadone include:
  • Other narcotics
  • Drugs that make patients’ sleepy
  • Drugs that slow patients’ breathing
  • Drugs that change a patients’ serotonin levels

Risks of Taking Methadone

Even though the impact of methadone is different from those of other opioids, a patient’s body, especially a patient with addiction issues, can get used to the drug’s effect. Even patients with a proper prescription can become dependent on methadone without caution. Individuals on methadone may begin to rely on the pain relief it gives them.

Patients react to methadone in different ways. Changing the dosage on your own can result in harmful side effects or an overdose, which can be fatal. It is important to be completely honest with your doctor about your methadone use. Overdose symptoms include:

  • Decreased breathing rate
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Severe drowsiness
  • Weak muscles
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Small pupils
  • Fainting

How methadone is stored and disposed of is important as well. If your methadone is expired or if you no longer need to take it anymore, please find a safe drug take-back program or flush it down the toilet. As always, talk to your pharmacist or physician if you have questions. Keep methadone:

  • In its original container
  • Tightly sealed
  • Out of children’s reach
  • At room temperature
  • Away from heat and moisture

Methadone and Pregnancy

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may take methadone, but it can cross the woman’s placenta or go into her breast milk. Doctors are trained to keep this in mind when deciding on a treatment plan. If a woman is pregnant and has a heroin or a pain pill addiction, it is especially important to get her treatment to keep her and the baby safe. Babies born to women who take methadone have the chance of going into withdrawal, though most of these babies have fewer health problems than infants whose mothers used heroin or other opioids. Reach out to your doctor or go to the emergency room if a breastfeeding infant shows unusual sleepiness, weakness, or difficulty breathing. When the baby is ready to wean off breast milk, talk to your physician about how to do it safely and slowly to prevent methadone withdrawal.

At Boardwalk Recovery Center, we have a phenomenal psychiatrist on staff who knows what treatment plan is right for each client. Please reach out for help; we are your answer to a life free from addiction.

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