Methadone is a synthetic opioid that is often used as a pain killer and as a treatment for heroin addiction and addiction to other opioid drugs. While methadone is beneficial for these reasons, there is always a potential for methadone overdose.
Can You Overdose on Methadone?
Yes. Someone who is taking methadone as a painkiller could possibly overdose on the drug and is more likely to than someone who is taking methadone to treat addiction. According to the DOJ, “Inadvertent overdose is becoming increasingly common, likely in part because the drug’s acute pain-relieving effect lasts only 4 to 6 hours, yet it has a very long and variable plasma half-life of 24 to 36… hours.”
Individuals who go to methadone clinics to receive treatment for addiction usually are heavily monitored and are given a specific amount of the drug which they cannot overdose on. The CDC states that methadone given to addiction patients “does not cause euphoria or intoxication itself (with stable dosing).” However, there is always a possibility that a patient may overdose on methadone if given a high enough amount of the drug.
Recognizing Methadone Overdose
According to the NLM, “Methadone overdose occurs when someone accidentally or intentionally takes more than the normal or recommended amount of this medication.” Sometimes, people who do so are attempting to get high off the drug, but other times, it may just be an accident. Also, some individuals may be trying to hurt themselves by taking high doses of methadone. Recognizing the symptoms of methadone overdose can be important and may be able to help you save a life.
The symptoms of methadone overdose are:
- Pinpoint pupils
- This is a very obvious symptom where the person’s pupils are very small like the head of a pin. Doctors look for this when they are trying to discover if a person has overdosed on opioids.
- Slow, difficult, shallow, or no breathing
- Respiratory depression is what often kills those who overdose on methadone. A person’s breathing will become very slow, labored, or possibly even stop altogether. If this occurs, the person will need medical attention immediately.
- Low blood pressure
- Weakened pulse
- Drowsiness, dizziness, or fatigue
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle spasms/twitches
- “Blue fingernails and lips”
- Skin that is clammy and cold
How to Help
If someone you know has overdosed on methadone, the first thing you must do is call 911. Give the operator as much information as possible and make sure they know what the person took if you are sure it was methadone. Then follow these instructions:
- Make sure to stay with the person, and do not leave their side for any reason.
- Do not make the person throw up unless you are told to do so by the 911 operator.
- Try to stay calm and keep the individual calm.
- Bring the drug to the hospital if possible so the doctors and nurses will know exactly what they are dealing with.
As for a prognosis, “the faster you get medical help, the better chance for recovery.” Methadone is a very beneficial drug, especially for those who are addicted to opioids, but the possibility for and symptoms of overdose should be known by users and their loved ones.