Although methadone is typically prescribed to help people treat opioid dependency, abusing it can easily lead to a methadone overdose.
If you or someone you love is taking this drug – whether it has been prescribed by a doctor or obtained illegally – you should know the signs and symptoms of methadone overdose and know how to prevent it. To learn more about all this, read this know-it-all article.
What is Methadone?
Methadone is a Schedule II controlled substance that certified physicians prescribe to treat opioid use disorder. It’s also a long-acting full opioid agonist and powerful analgesic medication, typically used for treatment of opioid use disorder with Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). It can also be used for chronic pain management.
This drug is considered to be both effective and safe when taken as prescribed by a healthcare professional. In most cases, patients use it in combination with other rehabilitation options.
It’s currently available under a couple of different brand names, including Methadose® and Dolophine®, in the form of a liquid, powder, or diskette.
Methadone Usage in the US
For several decades, methadone has been used to help individuals overcome their addiction to heroin and narcotic pain medications. Therefore, it’s no wonder it was prescribed to more than 400,000 patients in the United States in 2019.
According to CDC, the rate of drug overdose deaths that involved methadone increased from 0.5 to 1.8 between the years 2001 and 2006. It then decreased down to 0.8 in 2019, remaining pretty stable throughout the next couple of years, with the rate reaching 1.1 during 2021.
Methadone Overdose Signs and Symptoms
If a person takes an excessive dose of methadone or misuses the drug in any other way, they are at high risk of suffering a methadone overdose.
The signs of methadone overdose can present themselves in various body systems, including the gastrointestinal, vascular, respiratory, and central nervous system. They may include:
- Low blood pressure
- Weak pulse
- Dizziness or disoriented behavior
- Cold and clammy skin
- Pinpoint/constricted pupils (so-called “methadone overdose pupils”)
- Blue lips and fingernails
- Body spasms
- Decreased respiratory rate or difficulty breathing
- Loss of consciousness or limp body
If you believe you or someone you know may be experiencing methadone overdose symptoms, you must seek immediate medical attention.
You should also be aware of some signs of being overmedicated that could potentially result in an opioid overdose. These signs may include:
- Decreased blood pressure
- Extreme sleepiness or drowsiness and difficulty waking up
- Decreased heart rate
- Slurred speech
- Mental confusion
How is Methadone Administered?
Methadone may be provided in three forms: pill, liquid, and wafer. All forms of this medication can be taken orally, but the liquid form of the drug can also be administered in several other ways – intravenously, subcutaneously, or intramuscularly.
Because of the high methadone overdose risk, it is very important that patients consume the correct dose.
In most cases, a patient must take methadone under their practitioner’s supervision and visit their practitioner’s office for each dose. Later on in their treatment, patients may be allowed to take methadone home in between visits, depending on their compliance, progress, and behavior.
How Does Methadone Act on Your Body?
Methadone works by altering the way your brain and nervous system respond to pain signals. It decreases the painful symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal without the euphoric effects of opioids like heroin, codeine, morphine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone.
The use of this medication may be associated with several side effects in addition to its desired effects. These may include:
- Changes in your sleep
- Abdominal pain and upset stomach
- Nausea, vomiting, and constipation
- Reduced respiratory rate
- Itchy skin
- Excessive sweating
- Changes in appetite
- Weight gain
- Dry mouth
- Mood changes
- Vision problems
However, if you experience any of the following severe side effects while taking methadone, you must contact your medical professional immediately:
- Difficulty breathing
- Increased heart rate or chest pain
- Lightheadedness or loss of consciousness
- Rash or hives
- Swollen face, throat, tongue, or lips
- Confusion or hallucinations
- Difficulty swallowing
- Severe fatigue or drowsiness
- Abnormal menstruation
How Long Do Methadone Effects Last?
Methadone is considered a long-acting drug, which means it acts more slowly in the body and stays there for an extended length of time. It has been shown to remain active in the body for up to 24 to 36 hours.
Because it stays active in the body for so long, there is a greater risk of overdose. This is why it is so important to take your prescription exactly as your provider instructed, typically once a day.
Risk Factors Leading to Methadone Overdose
There are several risks associated with long-term use of methadone, even when an individual uses the drug as prescribed. In fact, using it for an extended period of time can lead to various issues similar to the effects of opioid abuse. Some of these include:
- Heart issues
- Respiratory and lung problems
- Brain damage or mental health disorders
- Decreased oxygen levels due to a reduced respiratory rate.
Additionally, if an individual becomes more tolerant and requires a greater dose, increased use of the drug can also result in methadone overdose and potentially even death.
Some other methadone overdose risk factors may include:
- Relapse. Death from methadone overdose is also a risk if the individual was abstinent for a while and then experiences a relapse on a high dose of methadone.
- Taking methadone combined with other substances. Combining methadone with some other medications significantly increases your risk of life-threatening side effects, such as loss of consciousness, coma, and breathing problems. More specifically, methadone should not be combined with anticonvulsants, HIV medications, or antibiotics, to name a few.
- Taking more methadone than prescribed. Taking a higher amount of the drug than instructed by your practitioner increases the risk of a fatal overdose, even if it happens by accident.
As previously mentioned, methadone is considered a Schedule II drug, which means that it does have a justifiable use in some cases, but it is also associated with a high risk of addiction. Because of this classification, it is also illegal to use it for recreational purposes – it should only be used when prescribed by a medical professional.
Methadone abuse occurs any time an individual uses this drug in any way other than as prescribed. Even though methadone works by blocking the euphoric effects of other opioids, it does have euphoric effects of its own. They are less severe but significant enough to be considered unsafe for people who drive.
After taking the drug for an extended period of time, the user may begin to build a tolerance and require a greater dose to experience the same effects, which is a telltale sign of methadone dependency.
Some other signs may include:
- Intense methadone cravings
- Taking a higher dose than prescribed
- Inability to reduce the use of methadone
- Worsened relationships with family and friends.
- Failure to keep up with the daily responsibilities at work, school, or home
Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms
The symptoms of methadone withdrawal will begin approximately 24–36 hours after taking the last dose. In most cases, the detoxification process is supervised by a physician.
During a methadone withdrawal, an individual may experience:
- Excessive sweating
- Watery eyes
- Difficulty sleeping
- Runny nose
In the initial stages of the process, the symptoms may be comparable to those of the flu. Yet the difference is that they will remain severe for more than a couple of days – some symptoms may even peak after day three. These might include:
- Nausea, vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea
- Muscle aches and pains
- Intense drug cravings
How long the methadone withdrawal symptoms will last depends on the circumstances. In some cases, they might only last 2–3 weeks, but some people may experience these symptoms for up to six months. Regardless of how long they last, those symptoms will be the worst during the first week and continue to improve over time.
Preventing Methadone Overdose
Methadone overdose is typically caused by a lack of awareness about the dangers and risks associated with the use of this drug.
The first thing you should do when a methadone overdose occurs is to seek emergency medical assistance, as this issue can be life-threatening.
There are also a few things you can do to avoid a methadone overdose, including:
- Only taking methadone that has been provided to you by your licensed physician exactly as prescribed.
- Understanding that it may take up to four hours for the effects of methadone to reach their peak. Taking an additional dose of methadone too soon in order to achieve a “high” can lead to methadone toxicity and is known to result in an overdose.
- Not combining methadone with any other depressants that slow down the central nervous system, as this can block your airways.
ANR – The Best Treatment for Methadone Dependence
If you or someone you love is struggling with a methadone addiction, you should know there is hope for recovery. Here at the ANR Clinic, we have a mission to help you put an end to the opioid epidemic, one person at a time!
Accelerated Neuro-Regulation (ANR) doesn’t only focus on treating your withdrawal symptoms but actually treats the biological root cause of opioid dependency using modern medical technology. We have helped over 24,000 patients worldwide overcome opioid dependency without relapse or withdrawal symptoms.
What sets ANR apart from other forms of opioid use disorder treatment is that it eliminates the intense cravings associated with opioid withdrawal and allows the patient to undergo the process under sedation. This treatment option makes you far less likely to relapse and has a much higher success rate.
Even if methadone has been prescribed to you by your physician, there is still a risk of addiction. Due to this, you must be familiar with methadone overdose symptoms, learn to recognize them, and quickly react if necessary.
Before you go, here’s a summary of everything we learned in this guide:
- Methadone is a Schedule II controlled substance and is only legal when prescribed to you by a licensed practitioner.
- Methadone remains active in the body for longer than most drugs (24–36 hours), increasing the risk of overdose.
- Relapsing, combining methadone with other substances, and taking the medication in any way other than as prescribed are all actions that will put you at an increased risk of overdose.
Dr. Waismann identified the biological roots of opioid dependency, Since then he has successfully treated more than 24,000 patients worldwide that are struggling with opioid addiction.
Throughout his career, he has lectured and educated health professionals in dozens of countries around the world to this day.