Methadone belongs to a class of medications called opiate (narcotic) analgesics. Methadone works to treat pain by changing the way the brain and nervous system respond to pain. It works to treat people who were addicted to opiate drugs by producing similar effects and preventing withdrawal symptoms in people who have stopped using these drugs.
Methadone is used to relieve severe pain in people who are expected to need pain medication around the clock for a long time and who cannot be treated with other medications. It also is used to prevent withdrawal symptoms in patients who were addicted to opiate drugs and are enrolled in treatment programs in order to stop taking or continue not taking the drugs.
How should Methadone be used?
Methadone comes as a tablet, a dispersible (can be dissolved in liquid) tablet, a solution (liquid), and a concentrated solution to take by mouth. When methadone is used to relieve pain, it may be taken every 8 to 12 hours. If you take methadone as part of a treatment program, your doctor will prescribe the dosing schedule that is best for you. Follow the directions on your prescription label carefully and ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain any part you do not understand. Take methadone exactly as directed.
If you are using the dispersible tablets, do not chew or swallow before mixing the tablet in a liquid. If your doctor has told you to take only part of a tablet, break the tablet carefully along the lines that have been scored into it. Place the tablet or piece of the tablet in at least 120 mL (4 ounces) of water, orange juice, Tang®, citrus flavors of Kool-Aid®, or a citrus fruit drink to dissolve. Drink the entire mixture right away. If some tablet residue remains in the cup after you drink the mixture, add a small amount of liquid to the cup and drink it all.
Your doctor may change your dose of methadone during your treatment. Your doctor may decrease your dose or tell you to take methadone less often as your treatment continues. If you experience pain during your treatment, your doctor may increase your dose or may prescribe an additional medication to control your pain. Talk to your doctor about how you are feeling during your treatment with methadone. Do not take extra doses of methadone or take doses of methadone earlier than they are scheduled even if you experience pain.
Do not stop taking methadone without talking to your doctor. Your doctor will probably want to decrease your dose gradually. If you suddenly stop taking methadone, you may experience withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness, teary eyes, runny nose, yawning, sweating, chills, muscle pain, widened pupils (black circles in the middle of the eyes), irritability, anxiety, backache, joint pain, weakness, stomach cramps, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, nausea, decreased appetite, vomiting, or diarrhea.
What side effects can this medication cause?
Methadone may cause side effects. Tell your doctor if any of these symptoms are severe or do not go away:
- weight gain
- stomach pain
- dry mouth
- sore tongue
- difficulty urinating
- mood changes
- vision problems
- difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
Some side effects can be serious. If you experience any of the following symptoms call your doctor immediately or get emergency medical help:
- swelling of the eyes, face, mouth, tongue, or throat
- difficulty breathing or swallowing
- extreme drowsiness
- agitation, hallucinations (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist), fever, sweating, confusion, fast heartbeat, shivering, severe muscle stiffness or twitching, loss of coordination, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, weakness, or dizziness
- inability to get or keep an erection
- irregular menstruation
- decreased sexual desire
Methadone may cause other side effects. Call your doctor if you have any unusual problems while you are taking this medication.
Methadone Safety Information
Methadone may be habit forming. Take methadone exactly as directed. Do not take a larger dose, take it more often, or take it for a longer period of time or in a different way than prescribed by your doctor. While taking methadone, discuss with your healthcare provider your pain treatment goals, length of treatment, and other ways to manage your pain. Tell your doctor if you or anyone in your family drinks or has ever drunk large amounts of alcohol, uses or has ever used street drugs, or has overused prescription medications, or has had an overdose, or if you have or have ever had depression or another mental illness. There is a greater risk that you will overuse methadone if you have or have ever had any of these conditions. Talk to your healthcare provider immediately and ask for guidance if you think that you have an opioid addiction or call the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.
Methadone may cause serious or life-threatening breathing problems, especially during the first 24 to 72 hours of your treatment and any time your dose is increased. Your doctor will monitor you carefully during your treatment. Tell your doctor if you have or have ever had slowed breathing or asthma. Your doctor will probably tell you not to take methadone. Also tell your doctor if you have or have ever had lung disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD; a group of lung diseases that includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema), a head injury, a brain tumor, or any condition that increases the amount of pressure in your brain. The risk that you will develop breathing problems may be higher if you are an older adult or are weak or malnourished due to disease. If you experience any of the following symptoms, call your doctor immediately or get emergency medical treatment: slowed breathing, long pauses between breaths, or shortness of breath.
Taking certain other medications during your treatment with methadone may increase the risk that you will experience serious, life-threatening side effects such as breathing problems, sedation, or coma. Tell your doctor if you are taking or plan to take any of the following medications: antipsychotics such as aripiprazole (Abilify), asenapine (Saphris), cariprazine (Vraylar), chlorpromazine, clozapine (Versacloz), fluphenazine, haloperidol (Haldol), iloperidone (Fanapt), loxapine, lurasidone (Latuda), molindone, olanzapine (Zyprexa), paliperidone (Invega), perphenazine, pimavanserin (Nuplazid), quetiapine (Seroquel), risperidone (Risperdal), thioridazine, thiothixene, trifluoperazine, and ziprasidone (Geodon); benzodiazepines such as alprazolam (Xanax), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), clonazepam (Klonopin), clorazepate (Gen-Xene, Tranxene), diazepam (Diastat, Valium), estazolam, flurazepam, lorazepam (Ativan), oxazepam, temazepam (Restoril), and triazolam (Halcion); opiate (narcotic) medications for pain and cough; medications for nausea or mental illness; muscle relaxants; sedatives; sleeping pills; or tranquilizers. Your doctor may need to change the doses of your medications and will monitor you carefully. If you take methadone with any of these medications and you develop any of the following symptoms, call your doctor immediately or seek emergency medical care: unusual dizziness, lightheadedness, extreme sleepiness, slowed or difficult breathing, or unresponsiveness. Be sure that your caregiver or family members know which symptoms may be serious so they can call the doctor or emergency medical care if you are unable to seek treatment on your own.
Drinking alcohol, taking prescription or nonprescription medications that contain alcohol, or using street drugs during your treatment with methadone increases the risk that you will experience serious, life-threatening side effects. Do not drink alcohol, take prescription or nonprescription medications that contain alcohol, or use street drugs during your treatment.
Do not allow anyone else to take your medication. Methadone may harm or cause death to other people who take your medication, especially children. Store methadone in a safe place so that no one else can take it accidentally or on purpose. Be especially careful to keep methadone out of the reach of children. Keep track of how many tablets or how much liquid is left so you will know if any medication is missing. Dispose of any unwanted methadone tablets or oral solution properly according to instructions. (See STORAGE and DISPOSAL.)
Methadone may cause a prolonged QT interval (a rare heart problem that may cause irregular heartbeat, fainting, or sudden death). Tell your doctor if you or anyone in your family has or has ever had long QT syndrome; or if you have or ever had a slow or irregular heartbeat; low blood levels of potassium or magnesium, or heart disease. Tell your doctor and pharmacist if you are taking or plan to take any of the following medications: antidepressants such as amitriptyline, amoxapine, clomipramine (Anafranil), desipramine (Norpramin), doxepin (Silenor), imipramine (Tofranil), nortriptyline (Pamelor), protriptyline (Vivactil), and trimipramine (Surmontil); certain antifungals such as fluconazole (Diflucan), itraconazole (Onmel, Sporanox), ketoconazole, and voriconazole (Vfend); diuretics (‘water pills’); erythromycin (Eryc, Erythrocin, others); fludrocortisone; certain laxatives; medications for irregular heartbeat such as amiodarone (Nexterone, Pacerone), disopyramide (Norpace), dofetilide (Tikosyn), flecainide, ibutilide (Corvert), procainamide, and quinidine (in Nuedexta); nicardipine (Cardene); and risperidone (Risperdal); and sertraline (Zoloft). If you experience any of the following symptoms, call your doctor immediately: pounding heartbeat, dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting.
Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. If you take methadone regularly during your pregnancy, your baby may experience life-threatening withdrawal symptoms after birth. Tell your baby’s doctor right away if your baby experiences any of the following symptoms: irritability, hyperactivity, abnormal sleep, high-pitched cry, uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body, vomiting, diarrhea, or failure to gain weight.
Talk to your doctor about the risks of taking methadone for your condition.
Your doctor or pharmacist will give you the manufacturer’s patient information sheet (Medication Guide) when you begin treatment with methadone and each time you fill your prescription if a Medication Guide is available for the methadone product you are taking. Read the information carefully and ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions. You can also visit the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website (http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/ucm085729.htm) or the manufacturer’s website to obtain the Medication Guide.
Use of methadone to treat opiate addiction:
If you have been addicted to an opiate (narcotic drug such as heroin), and you are taking methadone to help you stop taking or continue not taking the drug, you must enroll in a treatment program. The treatment program must be approved by the state and federal governments and must treat patients according to specific federal laws. You may have to take your medication at the treatment program facility under the supervision of the program staff. Ask your doctor or the treatment program staff if you have any questions about enrolling in the program or taking or getting your medication.