Frequently Asked Questions about Methadone
Methadone is a synthetic drug used to treat addiction to opiates. The initial goal of methadone treatment is to free a person from the withdrawal symptoms that occur when he/she stops taking a drug such as heroin, making it easier to avoid using the drug and to begin a recovery program. Methadone does not "cure" addiction. It is also a powerful and addictive drug that must be used with caution and under the care of a licensed treatment center/physician.
Opiates are derivatives of opium, including heroin, morphine, codeine, Dilaudid, Oxycodone, and other related drugs. The drugs are so similar that, if you are addicted to one of them, you are addicted to all of them.
A person may be physiologically addicted to opiates if they have been taking heroin or other opiates daily for extended periods of time and exhibit symptoms of withdrawal when they stop using these drugs.
Along with irritability and cravings to use opiates within eight hours of discontinued use, the most common signs of opiate withdrawal are runny nose, large pupils, eyes tearing, sweating, chills, diarrhea, yawning, nausea, cramps, insomnia, joint pain, and gooseflesh.
Methadone does create physical dependency, but there are number of differences between methadone and opiates:
- Methadone is given orally, which reduces the risk of HIV and Hepatitis C.
- Methadone is very long acting. You only have to take methadone once a day. The proper oral dose remains fully effective for 24 to 36 hours to prevent the beginning of withdrawal symptoms.
- Methadone takes effect slowly and gradually, so you will not experience the euphoria caused by street drugs.
Most patients experience no severe side-effects. However, when experienced, side-effects are infrequent, usually minimal, and short-lived. They most often occur in the early stages of treatment.
You should notify our medical staff if you experience light-headedness, dizziness, extreme tiredness, nausea or vomiting, sweating, ankle swelling (edema), skin rash, restlessness, or malaise (a vague feeling of discomfort).
Methadone must be used with caution. It is a powerful drug and has a number of interactions and side-effects that you should understand. As with heroin and other narcotics, it is never safe to drink alcohol when using methadone. Excessive use of alcohol combined with methadone can cause breathing to stop, resulting in coma or death.
Note: If you are taking any medication, notify the physician when entering the program and also tell your primary counselor.
Caution: Opiate agonist/antagonist drugs (such as Talwin and buprenorphine) should not be prescribed for anyone using methadone as they will produce opiate withdrawal illness.
Federal Treatment Improvement Protocols states that pregnant women users who are in treatment with methadone deliver healthier babies.
Babies born to women on methadone sometimes experience withdrawal symptoms during the first several days after birth. The symptoms are routinely treated by the baby’s pediatrician and do not result in any long-term damage. Babies born to women on methadone tend to have a slightly lower birth weight than babies of non-addicted mothers. However, the most important comparison is with babies of mothers addicted to heroin.
Studies that compared babies born to mothers in methadone treatment with babies born to mothers who use heroin have demonstrated tremendous benefits for those whose mother is in methadone treatment.
Mothers in our methadone treatment program are in prenatal care, receive nutritional supplements and information, and participate in parenting classes. In comparison with heroin-addicted women, those in methadone treatment reduce the risk of miscarriage, increase birth weight, reduce infection and HIV risk to the fetus, and generally have a much greater chance for a healthy baby.