Can you overdose on Methadone?

Opioid use disorder (OUD) and addiction have increased at an alarming rate over the past decades. With the introduction of fentanyl, a highly addictive substance that is cheaper to manufacture and obtain, addiction and overdose are becoming a public health crisis. Methadone medication is a common treatment method for OUD. Methadone is a synthetically derived medication often used to treat OUD as well as assist in long-term pain management.

The drug itself produces opioid-like effects. Meaning there is a high risk of becoming addicted to methadone. Although highly effective in treating opioid addiction and symptoms of detox, methadone can cause its own set of withdrawal symptoms after ending short or long-term use. This begs the question, can you overdose on methadone?

A white and blue medication bottle of methadone hydrochloride and a smaller bottle of oxycodone sit on a table.

What is Methadone?

Methadone is a prescription drug used to treat severe pain, long-term management of pain and assist in opioid addiction treatment. Methadone works by changing the way the brain and central nervous system respond to pain. It replaces the opioids you have become addicted to and reduces the amount of pain your body feels. It mimics the same properties and effects of an opiate drug.

Methadone can help reduce opioid cravings and block the effects of active opioids in the body. Because of this, methadone is a popular medication used to help prevent withdrawal symptoms in people who have stopped using opioid drugs. In 2008, an estimated 750,000 methadone prescriptions were written for the treatment of pain relief.

Methadone is a Food and Drug Administration-approved medication to treat OUD and severe pain management. The long-acting medication is a Schedule II controlled medication and can only lawfully be prescribed through an opioid treatment program. Since the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, access to methadone has expanded. It has allowed more patients the option to take home doses rather than having to visit a clinic daily. It is regularly used as a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and form of medication management during detox and throughout the remainder of rehab when deemed necessary by a medical provider.

Methadone is available in pill form and liquid form. A dose of the drug can offer pain relief that can last from 4-8 hours. When being treated for opioid detox and for pain management, a typical dosage for methadone begins with 20-30mg, taken twice a day for 2-3 days. The length of dosage will depend on many individual factors surrounding each patient. When being treated for severe opioid addiction, a typical dosage can range anywhere from 80-120mg per day.

Can you overdose on Methadone?

According to statistics, methadone is involved in about one third of opioid painkiller overdose deaths. Methadone’s similar effects to traditional opioids make it just as habit-forming. The risk of overdose is just as high. It is just as possible to overdose on methadone, as it is to overdose on other opioid prescription drugs.

How long does Methadone withdrawal last?

Methadone is safe and effective in opioid relapse treatment and prevention. Because methadone can produce similar opioid effects, it can also become highly addictive and cause symptoms of withdrawal. Even patients who use methadone as a form of pain management and do not have an opioid addiction can experience withdrawal.

Addiction occurs when the body has become reliant and dependent on methadone in order to perform basic functions. When the user has suddenly stopped using methadone, the body is unable to establish normal chemicals. The body is forced to relearn how to operate without the drug which sends the body into a state of chaos. The uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms make recovery and detox difficult.

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Symptoms of withdrawal can appear within 24-36 hours after the last dose of methadone. Symptoms of methadone withdrawal include:

  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Paranoia
  • Drug cravings
  • Insomnia and difficulty sleeping
  • Hallucinations
  • Depression
  • Rapid heartbeat 

How long is methadone withdrawal? The duration of methadone withdrawal will depend on each user. Factors that contribute to the length of withdrawal includes if the patient is experiencing withdrawal from using methadone as a form of long-term pain management and if the patient is suffering from withdrawal symptoms due to opioid addiction treatment. Typical withdrawal can last between 2-6 weeks and can even last up to as long as 6 months.

The timeline for typical methadone withdrawal:

  • 1-2 days – Symptoms of withdrawal can begin around 24 hours after the last methadone dose. The appearance of withdrawal symptoms can take longer depending on the amount of methadone being used. Typical symptoms include chills, fever, rapid heart rate and muscle aches.
  • 3-8 days – During this period, strong cravings, anxiety, body aches, nausea and insomnia may set in. Intermediate symptoms can peak and new symptoms such as depression, vomiting and cramps begin to appear.
  • 9-15 days – During this stage, users may begin to experience strong cravings and an increase in the severity of their depression can occur.
  • 15 or more days – Towards the tail end of the withdrawal timeline, symptoms of low energy, anxiety, trouble sleeping and cravings can persist for the next 2-3 weeks. In unique cases, some people may experience post-acute methadone withdrawal syndrome with continued withdrawal symptoms lasting anywhere from weeks to months. Symptoms can include anxiety, bone and joint pain, chills, diarrhea and tremors.

The effects of Methadone

Methadone is a long-acting drug that once ingested, can remain active in the body for anywhere from 8 to 59 hours depending on dosage and frequency of use. This is significantly longer compared to other types of pain medications. Because of its long-acting nature, this also results in a slow and drawn-out withdrawal timeline.

Quitting methadone can be extremely difficult. During the detox process, it can take anywhere from 15-60 hours for methadone to be fully removed from the body. And once methadone has been expelled from the body, it could take up to 6 months for a person’s brain to heal and return to its normal functions.

Reach out to Hotel California by the Sea

We specialize in treating addiction and other co-occurring disorders, such as PTSD. Our Admissions specialists are available to walk you through the best options for treating your addiction.

Treatment of Methadone Addiction and Withdrawal

Treatment of methadone addiction and withdrawal is the most effective when managed through a drug and alcohol treatment program. Hotel California by the Sea offers various methods to help treat symptoms of addiction and withdrawal. Whether you are in need of treatment for withdrawal due to long-term medication pain management, or in need of treatment for OUD, the substance abuse program provides a full continuum of treatment options.

At Hotel California by the Sea, evidenced proven methods such as MAT and taper medication management have produced effective results in treating methadone addiction. MAT allows medical providers to recommend various types of medications to help treat uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal. Tapering medication allows medical providers to safely and gradually remove a person from an addictive substance. This works by methodically reducing drug dosage until they are completely free of the medication. Detox, residential and outpatient treatments at Hotel California by the Sea provide a complete treatment plan for people experiencing an addiction to methadone.