Methadone was developed in 1937, in Germany, and was first introduced in the United States in 1947 by Eli Lilly and Company, and was indicated for use as an analgesic (for treatment of pain). Although its chemical composition is different from morphine or heroin it too acts on the opioid receptors in the brain and generally renders the same effects.
It is a synthetic (man-made) opioid that has mainly been used to manage chronic pain but is now more commonly employed as an anti-addictive medication used to treat narcotic addiction. Managing chronic pain with methadone was effective because of its long half-life and because of its low cost. A study in 2004 showed the cost of methadone to be between approximately 15% cheaper than Demerol, another narcotic analgesic.
How Do You Take Methadone & How Long Does It Last?
Although methadone is available in pill form, the most common route for taking this medication is through an oral solution that is in liquid form. It is also available by injection at methadone clinics, but because its delivery volume is so high it diffuses into the tissues of the body very quickly. It especially diffuses into fatty tissues because it has a slow metabolism and is highly fat-soluble. This also increases the half-life of methadone to 15 to 65 hours.
What Are the Withdrawal Symptoms of Methadone?
As with any other narcotic medication, there will be some withdrawal symptoms associated with the use of methadone. These symptoms are not as severe as those of heroin or morphine, but do have a tendency to last longer. Symptoms can last from several weeks to a few months. Common withdrawal symptoms include fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, tremor, increased heart rate, excessive discharge of mucous from the nose, and general body aches and pains. There are also side effects that may be experienced while taking methadone. These include a decrease in bowel movements (decreased bowel motility), nausea, and hypotension.
How Safe is Methadone?
Research has shown that when methadone is used long-term, for drug addiction or for pain, and is combined with psychological therapy, it is relatively safe and effective. It is also important to maintain a healthy lifestyle while on this medication. This should consist of a balanced diet, exercise, and taking daily supplements. Methadone can become fatally dangerous if it is mixed with drugs or medications, especially benzodiazepines. Any toxic effects can be treated with the use of naloxone.
Wechsberg, Wendee M., and Jennifer J. Kasten. Methadone Maintenance Treatment in the U.S.: A Practical Question and Answer Guide. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company; 1 Edition, 2007.
Strain, Eric C. The Treatment of Opioid Dependence. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins UP; 1 Edition, 2005.