Methadone is one of a number of opiate agonists that have been used in opiate addiction treatment programs.
From the years 1999 to 2009, it is estimated that 5,000 people died in the US as a result of methadone use, a six-fold increase over that time period.1 However, since 2009, deaths from methadone have declined in states that did not use methadone as a preferred drug for Medicaid patients, but death rates have continued to soar in states where methadone is a preferred drug for Medicaid patients, according to CDC 2014 statistics.
“Drug overdose deaths involving methadone peaked in 2006 and 2007, then declined 39% by 2014. Despite this decline, however, methadone continues to account for nearly one in four prescription opioid-related deaths.” 2
Starting in January 2019, deaths by drug overdose involving methadone as well as not involving methadone began to rise. A federal policy change in March 2020 allowed methadone to be distributed monthly rather than daily. At that point, methadone-involved overdose deaths remained stable at 3%. It is thought that a spike in fentanyl availability contributed to the rise in overall deaths, during the pandemic period. Over the same period, statistics from various states indicated that drug overdose deaths not involving methadone continued to increase in the US.6-8
Whether you are considering starting or stopping a drug, it can be helpful to learn as much as possible about it in order to make an informed decision about your continued health and safety. There is more information below that we hope may be of assistance in doing such research.
What Is Methadone Used for?
Methadone was first introduced to the US as a medication for the relief of extreme pain. It is still used for this purpose, although today a doctor would likely prescribe adjunct medications along with methadone in the event that faster relief was necessary, as methadone has a slower onset than other painkillers such as morphine. Methadone is a long-acting medication that may be beneficial in some cases.
Opiate Replacement Therapy:
If a person is in treatment for addiction to other opioids, such as heroin or Oxycodone, etc., a physician who is licensed to do so may prescribe methadone to prevent withdrawals, including cravings that otherwise may lead to relapse. When used for this purpose, it is called opiate replacement therapy, or methadone maintenance therapy, and is taken daily for the duration of the program, or until the decision is made to gradually taper off the drug.
Methadone Alternative Names and Slang
Methadone has acquired quite a number of slang names and has developed a significant street presence.3 One reason for its prevalence is that it is addictive, though with less intense effects than heroin or others. Another reason points to the possibility that as a drug used in many community programs, and in some areas is provided free of charge in harm reduction programs, there is just a lot of the drug in circulation. Providing low-cost or free methadone is an attempt to reduce crimes related to procuring drugs. However, sometimes the drug will be sold on the street as a means to get money to buy preferred (more potent) drugs. In 2010, Methadone was reported in 25-30% of synthetic opioid overdose deaths as tabulated from ER data and only amounted to 1% of prescriptions.2,5
Street or slang names include: juice, water, chocolate chip cookies, junk, dolls, done, dollies, Maria, jungle juice, “meth,” phy, fizzies, pastora, metho, and many others.
Methadone hydrochloride is also sold under brand names, such as Diskets Dispersible©, Metadol©, Dolophine©, Methadose©, and Methadone HCl Intensol©. In countries outside the US, brand names include Polamido©, Adolan©, Heptanon©, Depredol©, Mephenon©, Heptadon©, Ketalgin©, and Physeptone©.
Methadone comes in dissolvable tablets, tablets, and liquid forms.
Methadone Side Effects
Side effects of methadone are similar to other opiates, but euphoric effects are reported as less intense.
Methadone side effects can include:
- Lightheaded feeling or dizziness
- Itchy skin, rashes, hives
- Slowed breathing rate
- Restless feelings
- Dry mouth
- Profuse sweating
- Loss of libido, sexual disinterest
- Difficult urination
- Slowed or shallow breathing, cannot take deep breaths
- Swelling in the lips, tongue, throat, face
- Pain in the chest accompanied by rapid heartbeat
- Mental confusion
- Lung problems associated with long-term use
- Change in the female menstrual cycle
- Pregnant women should talk with their prescribing physician before starting or stopping methadone. Aside from drug side effects, heavy withdrawal effects during pregnancy may be harmful to the baby and the mother.
Withdrawal symptoms appear because the body has to adjust after becoming dependent on the presence of opiates in the system. It can take a substantial period of time to totally normalize.
It is advisable to undergo methadone cessation, if possible, in a medical or inpatient environment which can significantly help reduce the severity of discomfort when coming off medications such as methadone. At Alternative to Meds Center, opiate withdrawal programs can accelerate the transition time due to the benefits of orthomolecular and environmental medicine in program design. Removal of neurotoxins, and addressing the severe nutritional deficiencies that often accompany opiate use have been found highly beneficial to the recovery process.
Holistic pain management and a wide range of comfort therapies are available, including therapeutic massage, nebulized glutathione, sauna therapy, IV and NAD therapy, acupuncture, Qi Gong, and much more. Please see our services overview pages for more details. 9-13