Methadone Characteristics and Effects

German chemists first produced methadone in the early 20th century and it has been used clinically since the end of World War 1.

It is a powerful synthetic opiate like heroin and morphine but without the strong sedative effect. It can substitute for heroin and is widely used by doctors in the treatment of heroin addiction.

In its basic form it is a white crystalline powder. It is generally administered as a syrup, mixed with cordial or fruit juice and taken orally. Methadone is also available in an injectable form. Users have been known to inject the syrup often resulting in health problems.

Effects are felt within 1 hour of a dose, with the peak effect felt at 4 to 8 hours after the dose. The effects of methadone last longer (usually up to 24 hours) than heroin and therefore administration is usually once a day.

Doses vary for different people and from the commencement of treatment the dose is gradually increased while observing the level of tolerance and avoiding the onset of heroin withdrawal. Once treatment has stabilised, daily dosages can vary from 40mg to >100mg of methadone.

If the dose is too low opiate withdrawal can occur resulting in symptoms such as abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting, irritability and back and joint ache. Too high a dose can be indicated by such symptoms of drowsiness, nodding off, shallow breathing and pinpoint pupils.

Other side effects that can occur but are unrelated to the dose can include, sweating, constipation, aching muscles and joints, decreased sex drive, fluid retention, loss of appetite and tooth decay.

Methadone can lead to dependence (addiction) but it is generally considered less serious than heroin and morphine dependence and is easier to treat. People can come off using methadone by reducing their dose gradually, by not setting a time to achieve this goal, and by consulting the counsellor /doctor involved in the methadone program about what is involved.

Suddenly stopping use or ‘cold turkey’ withdrawal is not recommended because it is an addictive drug and the discomfort encountered can result in people using heroin again regularly.

What are your observations, experiences with methadone?

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