Methadone is one of the many medications used for treating addiction.
It’s often used for people who have become addicted to drugs like heroin and prescription painkillers. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, methadone was approved as an analgesic by the FDA in 1947 and used for treating heroin and opioid withdrawal in 1950. Researchers knew, by the mid-1960s, the drug could be used as a maintenance medication to help individuals cope with opioid addiction and function in their daily lives.
Despite the benefits, there is a downside to this common medicine. Methadone can provide an individual with a high for a few reasons. While it provides relief from cravings and blocks the feeling of euphoria, the medication itself has several properties that can allow this effect. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported emergency visits related to nonmedical use of methadone had risen 73 percent from 2004 to 2008.
Potentially negative aspects of methadone include:
- A long half-life in the body
- Ingredients stay in the body after the drug’s effects wear off
- Possible interactions with other drugs
How Does It Work?
Methadone is given as a pill, a liquid, or a wafer. The typical dose is one per day. Under most circumstances, a person will experience pain relief from about 4-8 hours. The medication also blocks the effects that make one feel high from heroin, morphine, and even hydrocodone and oxycodone. It is also used to treat moderate to severe chronic pain, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices says.
The drug’s half-life is about 24-36 hours on average, but some of the drug can stay in the body for up to 5 days after the last dose. Stored in the liver and even other body tissues, it is eliminated at different rates depending on the individual. The faster methadone is metabolized, the more tolerant a person is. When used properly, someone who struggles with opiate addiction can function in normal daily activities, abstain from taking opiate drugs, and manage withdrawal symptoms.
How Methadone Gets You High
To reduce the painful symptoms associated with opiate withdrawal, methadone blocks pain. It is known to have sedative effects and impacts, such as insomnia, constipation, and weight gain. Chronic use can lead to longer action of the drug. It remains in the liver for a long time and is slowly released, triggering effects even if methadone blood levels are low.
Although its euphoric effects are limited, methadone can reduce reaction time and attention span. It also affects peripheral vision. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report indicates heroin addicts treated with it are “not fit to drive.” Those on a methadone high process information much slower, may be drowsy and/or have droopy eyelids, a dry mouth, and muscle flaccidity. Their body temperature and blood pressure may be low, and the person may exhibit little or no reaction to light.
To get high on methadone, abnormally high doses are required. A person would need to take methadone more frequently than prescribed. Some people opt to inject or snort methadone. This is dangerous because the drug is released into the body over time, and it builds up in the tissues. The effects of toxicity can therefore last. Methadone is listed under the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule II substance, meaning it is illegal to use to get high, and abuse can lead to severe mental impairment and physical dependence.
Avoiding a Methadone Overdose
The American Society of Addiction Medicine identified three specific patterns of overdose. A person can overdose because they are initially intolerant, or lose tolerance after stopping use for a period of time. Another form of overdose occurs when toxicity accumulates in the body. Doses may combine with what hasn’t been eliminated yet by the body. Also, methadone may be lethal when combined with other opioids and central nervous system depressants, such as fluoxetine, and alprazolam.
Overdose symptoms include:
- Feeling overly energetic
- Altered perception
- Mood swings
- Respiratory failure
Fortunately, it’s possible to avoid a methadone overdose by monitoring the patient. A person showing signs of toxicity will be monitored for at least a couple days. Naloxone may be used to counter the effects of methadone, specifically allowing the respiratory system to function normally. A person must also avoid other drugs or certain prescription medications while taking methadone. If administered properly, methadone can be helpful for controlling opiate cravings and reducing opiate withdrawal symptoms, so people can instead focus on building a firm foundation for sustained recovery.