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 as 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.5, 2
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 tablet, tablet, and liquid forms.
Methadone Side Effects
Side effects of methadone are similar to other opiates, but euphoric effects are reported as less intense. Some of these undesirable 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.
Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms
Methadone withdrawals can be difficult to endure and have been described as similar to other opiates.1 Some of these symptoms can include:
- Drug cravings
- Aching muscles
- Twitching muscles
- Flu-like symptoms, i.e., runny nose, sweating, general malaise
- Bone pain
- Tachycardia or racing heart rate
- Stomach cramps
- Suicidal ideation
- Loss of focus or to concentrate
The withdrawals from methadone, like those of heroin or other opiates, can be long-lasting and severe especially if done abruptly. Gradual cessation is recommended to lessen the severity of these symptoms.
Withdrawal symptoms appear because the body has to adjust after becoming dependent on the presence of the 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.