Dangers of Methadone Abuse: 4 Challenges and Alternatives

Dangers of Methadone: Methadone is a synthetic opioid medication primarily used to treat opioid dependence and addiction. It belongs to the class of drugs known as opioid agonists, meaning it works by binding to the same receptors in the brain as other opioids, such as heroin or prescription painkillers. Methadone is a long-acting opioid, lasting longer when compared to shorter-acting opioids like heroin. The drug mimics the effects of strong opioids with less risk of addiction and overdose.

The main purpose of methadone treatment is to help individuals addicted to opioids manage their withdrawal symptoms and reduce drug cravings. However, methadone is not risk-free. With the development of safer alternatives and treatment regimes, methadone increasingly looks like a risky option that swaps out a powerful addictive opioid with another problematic alternative. The dangers of methadone are well documented, and methadone overdose deaths are not uncommon.

At MAT Care Clinics, we are interested in providing the best medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to aid in your or a loved one’s path to recovery. When considering how to kick an addiction, it’s important to consider any option’s upsides and medical downsides. Although methadone can be an effective recovery method under close doctor supervision, it has too often been used as a catch-all medication for treatment, leading to tragic ends. This article will explore methadone, its uses, dangers, and alternatives so your way to sobriety is fully informed.

1. History of Methadone

Methadone was first synthesized in 1937 by German scientists Max Bockmühl and Gustav Ehrhart. They sought to develop a less addictive and more potent analgesic than morphine. Shortly afterward, in the Second World War, it gained popularity as a substitute medication for heroin. In the 1960s, Drs. Marie Nyswander and Vincent Dole, researchers in New York City, began exploring methadone as a long-term maintenance treatment for heroin addiction. They found that methadone could alleviate withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings, allowing individuals to stabilize their lives and engage in treatment and rehabilitation.

Alternative formulations of methadone, including liquid solutions and tablets, have been developed over time. It has maintained its status as the go-to medication-assisted treatment for heroin addiction, with designated clinics focused on its administration.

2. Effects of Methadone

Methadone produces a range of effects when used therapeutically or recreationally. The effects of methadone include:

  • Pain relief: Methadone is a potent analgesic that relieves moderate to severe pain. It acts on the central nervous system to reduce pain sensations.
  • Opioid substitution: Methadone is famously used in opioid substitution therapy to manage opioid dependence. It helps alleviate withdrawal symptoms, reduces drug cravings, and helps stabilize individuals.
  • Euphoria and sedation: Methadone can produce feelings of euphoria and sedation, especially when used recreationally or in higher doses than prescribed. These effects can be like those of other opioids and lead to addiction.
  • Respiratory depression: Methadone, like other opioids, can cause respiratory depression, leading to slow and shallow breathing. This effect is the most concerning when the medication is used inappropriately or combined with other central nervous system depressants, such as alcohol or sedatives.
  • Constipation: Methadone commonly causes constipation, as it affects the smooth muscles in the gastrointestinal tract, leading to slower movement and decreased bowel motility.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Some individuals may experience nausea and vomiting as side effects of methadone use, particularly during the initial treatment period. These effects often subside with continued use.
  • Drowsiness and cognitive impairment: Methadone can cause drowsiness, fatigue, and cognitive impairment, impacting concentration, alertness, and overall cognitive functioning.
  • Sexual dysfunction: Methadone use has links to sexual dysfunction, including decreased libido, erectile dysfunction, and reduced fertility in both men and women.


3. Dangers of Methadone Overdose

Some addicts replace their harder opioid addictions with methadone addiction. Methadone builds tolerance, meaning that higher doses are necessary to achieve a similar level of euphoria. Many addicts take treatment into their own hands, self-medicating in desperation to kick a hard drug addiction. If the dosage is increased too rapidly or without medical guidance, it can surpass the individual’s tolerance level and result in an overdose. The effects are catastrophic when taken outside of doctor supervision with a clear end in sight.

The risk of cross-drug abuse is also present. Since methadone is a depressant, it carries the risk of overdose when combined with alcohol. The symptoms of an overdose can vary in severity depending on the amount ingested and individual factors. Here are some common signs and symptoms of a methadone overdose:

  • Respiratory depression: Slow or shallow breathing is a hallmark symptom of an incoming overdose. Breathing may become irregular, weak, or even stop completely in severe cases. This lack of oxygen can cause severe brain damage or lead to death.
  • Extreme drowsiness or sedation: A methadone overdose can cause excessive sleepiness or difficulty staying awake. The person may be difficult to arouse or unresponsive, even when slapped.
  • Pinpoint pupils: Methadone overdose can lead to constricted or pinpoint pupils. However, it’s important to note that this symptom alone is not definitive for a methadone overdose, as pinpoint pupils can also occur with other opioid use.
  • Cold and clammy skin: The skin may feel cool, damp, or clammy due to decreased blood flow and suppressed body temperature regulation.
  • Blue lips or fingertips: Cyanosis, characterized by bluish discoloration of the lips, fingertips, or extremities, can indicate a lack of oxygen in the body due to respiratory depression.
  • Low blood pressure: Methadone overdose can cause a drop in blood pressure, leading to dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting.
  • Weak pulse: The pulse may become weak or irregular because of the depressant effects of methadone on the cardiovascular system.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Some individuals experiencing a methadone overdose may exhibit nausea, vomiting, or gastrointestinal distress symptoms.

4. Safer Alternatives to Methadone

Suboxone, Sublocade, Naltrexone, and Vivitrol are medications used to treat opioid dependence. These medications are safer than methadone due to their pharmacological properties and risk profiles. They have a lower potential for abuse, reduced risk of respiratory depression, and a decreased likelihood of overdose compared to full agonist opioids like methadone. Additionally, their formulations and mechanisms of action provide additional safeguards against misuse, diversion, and accidental overdose.

  • Suboxone: This is a combination medication containing buprenorphine, which partially mimics the effects of opioids, and naloxone, which blocks them. Buprenorphine has a ceiling effect, meaning its opioid effects level off, reducing the risk of respiratory depression and overdose compared to full agonist opioids like methadone. Suboxone injections come with naloxone to deter misuse, as it precipitates withdrawal symptoms.
  • Sublocade: This is an extended-release injectable form of buprenorphine. It provides a steady dose with just one injection a month, eliminating the need for daily dosing and reducing the risk of medication diversion or misuse.
  • Naltrexone: This is an opioid antagonist that blocks the effects of opioids. It is available in oral form or as an extended-release injectable called Vivitrol. Unlike methadone, naltrexone does not produce opioid effects or dependence. It effectively blocks the euphoric effects of opioids, making their misuse less rewarding. Since naltrexone is not an opioid, there is no risk of respiratory depression or overdose associated with its use.

MAT Care Clinics and Opioid Addiction

At MAT Care Clinics, we offer the safest, best medication-assisted methods to help you defeat addiction. With a low risk of abuse and expert medical supervision, our treatment can help you overcome the challenges of addiction and live a healthy, fulfilling life.

Call (833) 622-0628 or contact us through our website to discuss how we can help you.

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