Methadone is a medication used in medication-assisted treatment to help people reduce or stop taking heroin or other opioids.

Methadone has been used in Europe since the 1960’s to treat people who are addicted to heroin and opioid pain medicines. Methadone, a long-acting opioid agonist, is usually administered in a single daily dose as methadone oral solution 1 mg/mL. Patients with a long history of opioid misuse, those who typically abuse a variety of sedative drugs and alcohol, and those who experience increased anxiety during withdrawal of opioids may prefer methadone to buprenorphine because it has a more pronounced sedative effect.

Taking Methadone

Methadone is available as a syrup and is taken orally every day to avoid withdrawal. A common daily dose of methadone is between 40 mg and 120 mg, although some people need higher or lower doses. It can take several weeks of dose increases to reach your ideal dose of methadone. For the best results, treatment should be combined with counseling and social support.

Methadone is addictive, so it must be used exactly as prescribed. You can also overdose on methadone, especially if you have previously detoxed. When taken as prescribed it is safe and effective and can be taken safely for long periods of time.

How does Methadone work?

Methadone works by changing how the brain and nervous system respond to pain. It stops you feeling withdrawal symptoms and you shouldn’t crave heroin/opioids as much. It’s effects can start quickly and can last for several hours.

These effects include:

  • slowing down body functioning and reducing physical and psychological pain.
  • feelings of warmth, relaxation and detachment
  • relieving feelings of anxiety

Methadone can interact with other drugs, including alcohol. It can also interact with other medications causing unwanted side effects, so if you take multiple prescriptions you must make your doctor aware of this.

Side effects of Methadone

Not everyone gets side effects; some of methadone’s more common side effects are:

  • sweating
  • respiratory depression
  • nausea, vomiting
  • constipation
  • lowered sex drive
  • aching muscles and joints
  • drowsiness
  • headaches
  • dry mouth syndrome: a lack of saliva, which some believe can cause tooth decay.

Side effects often wear off over time; any new medication can take time to adjust to.

Returning to treatment?

If you’ve had methadone before and experienced difficulty, you should discuss this with the doctor. It may be that you were on the wrong dose last time, or this may not be the medication for you.