Also known as Methadose or Dolophine, methadone is a synthetic opioid that is classed as a Schedule II substance. This drug is a long-standing treatment prescribed to help those who are going through the drug detoxification process. Its main purpose is to help lessen the effects of withdrawal for patients who have become addicted to narcotic drugs. Methadone is also used as a pain medication for those suffering from long-term chronic pain. In cases of pain management, methadone should only be used by those who have not responded to other types of treatment or medications.
When taken as prescribed, methadone can offer life-changing results. Unfortunately, this drug also has a potential for overuse. This is especially the case with the current opioid epidemic. Methadone is noted as being more cost-effective than most opioids, which contributes to its prolific use. Although methadone does not produce the same side effects as other opioids, it is still considered an attractive substance for misuse for the following reasons:
- It alters one’s sensory and perception.
- It is an analgesia and relieves pain.
- It causes dizziness or a sense of euphoria.
- It gives a feeling of being light headed.
- It can cause drowsiness or sedation.
How Long Does Methadone Stay in the System?
Methadone can stay in the system from 2 to 14 days. The length of time that it stays in your system will depend on how much you take, the type, your weight, your metabolism, etc. In addition, the length of time that methadone can be detected in the body will rely on the type of test administered. There are four types of tests, which you can learn more about below.
Methadone Testing: How and Why?
Testing for methadone can take place in a variety of settings for a multitude of reasons:
- Clinical settings help monitor analgesia levels as part of a rehabilitation program. This is important to ensure sobriety and proper medication levels.
- Workplaces use testing to verify that a person is capable of performing their job.
- Sports related organizations test to check players and ensure that they are fit to play.
- Insurance companies may issue a test to determine eligibility for a policy.
There are four types of testing done to detect drugs like methadone in the system: urine, blood, saliva and hair. Below are some test details and the detection range of each test.
- Urine tests: Urine tests for methadone are the most common form. The detection window for methadone via a urine test is long. Urine tests will detect methadone in the system in as little as one hour and up to two weeks after use. Urine testing is more common than the other modes of testing because it is noninvasive and easy to administer. These tests are also relatively inexpensive.
- Saliva tests: Testing by way of saliva is convenient and noninvasive. Traces of methadone can be detected in the saliva within 30 minutes after ingestion. Detection can go up to a few days post-use.
- Blood test: Blood testing for methadone is the more expensive of the tests, but it is very accurate. Methadone can be detected in the blood within 30 minutes of last use. The drug will be detectable for up to a few days after use. It is best to administer blood tests within three hours to capture peak dosing levels. Since blood testing is expensive and invasive, it is not used as much as the other forms of testing. Another reason that blood testing isn’t used often is because the detection window is fairly short.
- Hair test: Hair tests for methadone are generally used to test for methadone over a period of time. Someone with long-term use of methadone will have traces of methadone in their hair. These tests are not administered for someone who has recently started taking methadone because hair will not show methadone use until a couple of weeks after use. However, hair tests will detect methadone for up to 90 days post-use.
Best Practices for Methadone Use
With concerns of increases in drug-related overdoses, opioids like methadone need to be used carefully. It’s prescribed in treatment for opioid use disorder and chronic pain management, so methadone has a particular place in the medical world. Used properly, methadone is an effective treatment. It can be specifically tailored to fit the patient and offer them good results. The following tips are suggested to achieve effective treatment results:
- No more than the amount prescribed should be taken. Dosing instructions should be followed exactly as they have been given by the health care provider.
- Operating and driving machinery are to be done with extreme caution.
- If overdose is suspected or has occurred, call 911 immediately.
- Children and pets should never have access to any medications. All medications should be stored out of reach. For more information, read the CDC’s Up and Away program.
- Never share your methadone with anyone. Sharing prescribed medications is illegal.
- If you have any unused methadone, dispose of it properly. Your health care provider can give you guidance on this. You can also visit the FDA or DEA sites to learn more.
- Methadone should be kept away from light and stored at room temperature.
- When switching from one form of methadone to another, you should speak with your health care provider. Changing types of medication could be due to various reasons such as medical history, mental health or substance use history.
Taking Methadone While Pregnant or Breastfeeding
Methadone can be taken be taken safely while pregnant or breastfeeding. Methadone can help manage a pregnant woman’s opioid use disorder and prevent withdrawal symptoms, which could cause the uterus to contract. A pregnant woman who experiences withdrawal is at risk of miscarriage or premature birth.
In some cases, it’s possible that a baby will experience withdrawal. This is known as neonatal abstinence syndrome. Symptoms of withdrawal can start within minutes to hours after the baby is born. It is also possible for symptoms to appear up to two weeks after birth.
Methadone Leading to Opioid Use Disorder
Like all narcotics, methadone can lead to addiction and overdose. Per the FDA, methadone can be misused in a manner similar to other opioids. It must be taken exactly as directed by a certified Opioid Treatment Program provider. This certification is to be obtained from SAMHSA. It is also important to note that history of alcohol use, heart or respiratory problems or mental health issues can cause adverse side effects when taking methadone.
Once physical dependency occurs, it is very likely that a person will experience withdrawal symptoms upon no longer taking methadone. The amount of time it takes for withdrawal symptoms to set in is about two to three days post-use, and symptoms can last up to 10 days. It is important to consult a health care provider before stopping the drug due to the withdrawal symptoms and side effects that can occur. Common methadone withdrawal symptoms include the following:
- Shaking and chills
- Stomach cramps and diarrhea
- Trouble sleeping
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Inability to sit still
- Body pain and aches
- Watery eyes and runny nose
- Increased heart rate and breathing rate
When methadone overdose has occurred, the following side effects could be present:
- Dizziness and tiredness
- Swollen legs and arms
- Rash or hives
- Chest pain
- Confusion or hallucinations
- Trouble sleeping
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty breathing
Due to methadone’s withdrawal symptoms, detox can be difficult and is never recommended to undergo without medical supervision. However, there are various ways to approach recovery and be successful. Continue reading below about recovery methods to understand how to overcome a methadone use disorder.
Medically Assisted Detox Treatment
If you need a medically assisted treatment program, then you may be given medications like Suboxone or Buprenorphine and L-alpha-acetylmethadol. These are both alternatives to methadone and help to treat opioid use disorders. Drugs like Buprenorphine are classed as Schedule V, so they have a lower potential for misuse. LAAM is classed as a Schedule II, and like methadone, it will have longer-lasting effects but won’t produce a euphoric high.
Counseling is helpful because it allows you to talk through your problems and gives you different tools that will aid in changing your thought patterns. Whether done solo or in a group setting, counseling is done so as to cater to your level of comfort. Coupled with rehabilitation, counseling will help before, during and after detox to achieve effective treatment and recovery.
Peer Support Programs
Peer support programs such as Narcotics Anonymous can provide a helpful community with people who have been in your shoes. You will gain a sense of support and not feel alone in your journey to overcoming your addiction. It is important to find a treatment program that offers help from the detox process all the way through to planning appropriate aftercare.
Residential Treatment Programs
A residential treatment program provides a 24/7 structured setting for recovery. Depending on the needs of each individual patient, either a residential program or outpatient program will be suggested. Although outpatient programs allow for more flexibility for work and family events, a residential program may be better if the addiction is severe. Both types of programs have the same goal in mind, which is to include a comprehensive treatment plan that includes:
- Individual counseling
- Group counseling
- Education on drugs and health
- Occupational assistance
- A strong aftercare plan
Ongoing individual therapy and peer support groups are important in the aftercare plan for an effective, successful recovery. From long-term and short-term residential programs to outpatient treatment, counseling and support group programs, there are a variety of treatment options available to help you in your journey to sobriety.
Individual goals and circumstances will determine which option is best for you. Regardless of the mode of treatment you choose, always remember that you have made the choice to get help, and that is very important.
Granite Recovery Centers
Granite Recovery Centers has been transforming the lives of alcohol- and drug-dependent adults from New England and beyond for over a decade. Located in New Hampshire, our treatment centers for addiction merge evidence-based clinical psychotherapies with a comprehensive 12-step program in a unique, effective way. Our addiction treatment programs for methadone substance use disorder include the following:
- Medical detox program
- Medication-assisted treatment
- Primary residential treatment
- Extended care
- Sober living
- Intensive outpatient counseling
Our growing alumni community is evidence of our success. Those who have recovered with our help will likely tell you that seeking addiction treatment saved their lives.