Dangers of Methadone

in Addiction
Published Jun 7, 2021
methadone 10mg

Methadone is a medication with effects similar to Morphine. It is used to treat moderate to severe pain, and it is used in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to treat opiate use disorder. When used as a treatment to wean individuals off other drugs, 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 and easier access to methadone as a recreationally used substance. The use of methadone can pose serious risks that should be discussed with a physician. 

How Methadone Works in the Brain

Methadone is a synthetic opioid agonist that decreases opiate withdrawal symptoms and relieves pain by acting on the same receptors in the brain activated by prescription opiate medications and heroin. Even though it occupies the opiate receptors, it does not cause feelings of euphoria in a person with opiate use disorder. Methadone occupies and activates those opioid receptors slower than other opiates, mostly eliminating the feelings of euphoria that heroin and prescription opiates can cause. 

How Patients Receive Methadone

A physician must prescribe methadone. Only SAMHSA-certified treatment programs can dispense methadone. After a period of stability — based on progress and proven, consistent compliance with the medication dosage — patients may be allowed to take methadone at home between program visits.

Dangerous Side Effects of Methadone

Methadone can have severe and life-threatening side effects. It is important to watch for the following when using methadone:

  • Seizures
  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Swelling of the mouth, face, tongue, or throat
  • Hoarseness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Extreme dizziness
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Chest pain

If any of these side effects occur, patients should contact their physician immediately.

Methadone Can Interact With Other Drugs

Methadone can interact with many medications, causing severe complications. If methadone is decided on as part of the treatment plan for substance use disorder, the patient and their physician need to discuss all of the patient’s medications, including herbal supplements and over-the-counter medications. 

According to NAMI, respiratory depression and death have been reported in patients taking methadone with benzodiazepine medications. Certain antibiotics, antifungals, and antidepressants can also increase the effects of methadone. Tricyclic antidepressants and antipsychotics with methadone can cause irregular heart rhythms. Some antiviral medications and the medication Naltrexone can decrease the effects of methadone. 

Methadone and Alcohol Use

Approximately 25–35% of methadone maintenance patients (MMP) continue to misuse alcohol after entering treatment. Drinking alcohol while taking methadone can have dangerous consequences. Combining these two substances can impair daily function and lead to life-threatening medical outcomes. 

Alcohol use can worsen health conditions such as Hepatitis C and other liver diseases common in patients who are on methadone maintenance. Alcohol and methadone are both depressants, and when taken together, they can increase the risk of overdose and respiratory depression. Using methadone and drinking alcohol can also lead to:

  • Irregular heart rhythms
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Increased fall risk
  • Cognitive impairment
Symptoms of Methadone Overdose

Methadone use can lead to overdose. A methadone overdose happens when someone takes more of the medication than recommended. A person can also overdose if they mix methadone with other pain medications like oxycontin, hydrocodone, or morphine. If a person has overdosed on methadone, they may exhibit: 

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Weak pulse
  • Absence of respirations
  • Shallow, slow, labored breathing
  • Coma
  • Drowsiness
  • Muscle twitches
  • Confusion/disorientation
  • Blue lips and fingernails (cyanosis)
  • Cold, clammy skin

If a methadone overdose is suspected, individuals should call 911 or the local poison control center immediately. Vomiting should not be induced unless suggested by poison control or a healthcare provider. 

Addiction Potential of Methadone

Even though methadone is used to help people with cravings and withdrawal symptoms and does not induce strong feelings of euphoria, it can still be addictive. People who take it can build up a tolerance and have to take more to get the same effects. Quitting methadone can lead to withdrawal symptoms, including: 

  • Fatigue
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia

Long-term effects of methadone misuse can cause harmful effects, including:

  • Liver damage
  • Brain damage
  • Heart damage
Detoxing from Methadone

When someone who has been misusing methadone wants to stop taking the medication, withdrawal symptoms will usually begin 12-48 hours after last use. With a medical detox at Gallus Medical Detox Centers, this process can be done safely and comfortably at one of our upscale, homelike centers in Colorado or Arizona.

If you or a loved one tried Methadone treatment to help with an opiate use disorder and the solution you were looking for has become the problem, you might need medical detox. Detox can present uncomfortable, frightening, and even life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. At Gallus Medical Detox Centers, we use IV and oral medications to safely and quickly treat withdrawal symptoms, and when our patients are discharged, they are entirely substance-free. Our patients experience dignity in healing from substance use in a safe, private, comfortable environment. We want our patients to have a successful recovery, and medical detox is only the first step. That is why every Gallus patient will get a thorough biopsychosocial assessment and leave with an aftercare plan. Come to our Colorado or Arizona location and experience what sets Gallus Medical Detox Centers apart. Call Gallus Medical Detox Centers today at (866) 296-5242 to learn more about our program.