You may be looking for methadone information for employers to better understand how to manage employees that are prescribed methadone. There can be a lot of misconceptions about this medication and the people that use it, and it is hard to know what exactly methadone is, if is it safe, and what to expect from an employee that is taking methadone.
What is Methadone?
Methadone is a medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of opioid addiction, opioid dependence, and severe pain. It is safe and effective when taken as directed by a doctor. Methadone is often combined with counseling or therapy in what is known as medication-assisted treatment (MAT).1
Chronic pain can be a debilitating condition if you suffer from it. Studies show that chronic non-cancer pain affects up to one-third of the population and can cause financial, social, and psychological strain.2
Methadone can help manage pain by interacting with receptors in the brain to create an analgesic effect in the body—helping to lessen the painful feelings you may have. It is most likely to be prescribed for you if you need alleviation from pain over a long period. Methadone is not typically the first pain reliever option that a medical professional will turn to and isn’t appropriate for acute pain.2
Treatment for Opioid Addiction and Dependence
Methadone is often used during acute opioid detox to alleviate distressing withdrawal symptoms and cravings. This opioid detox process typically takes between one and several weeks, and then the patient will be gradually weaned off methadone. Alternatively, some people take methadone in the long-term to treat opioid addiction, because methadone can alleviate cravings, ease protracted withdrawal, and reduce the risk of relapse.3
Although methadone is a full opioid agonist medication, it differs from opioids of misuse like heroin, fentanyl, and oxycodone in that it doesn’t cause a euphoric high.3 This is because it is a long-acting medication in which the effects come on slowly and last for many hours.
Opioid withdrawal symptoms can range from moderate discomfort to dangerous and may include:4
- Mood changes like feeling agitated or anxious
- Intestinal issues like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps
- Muscle aches
- Trouble sleeping or staying asleep
- Increased sweating
- Profound yawning
- Runny nose and teary eyes
- Goose bumps
- Dilated pupils
Methadone treatment helps alleviate these symptoms and lessen opioid cravings, which makes it possible for employees to still function in everyday life activities as they recover from an addiction. This medication-assisted treatment option has been shown to help decrease overdose deaths and criminal activity and to increase treatment retention and improved quality of life.1
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What to Expect from an Employee on Methadone
There is a lot of methadone information for employers out there that is incorrect or misleading, which is why doing your research is important. You most likely will not notice if one of your employees is on methadone because there are no clear signs of prescribed methadone use in an individual. As an employer, you do not need to make special accommodations for an employee that is taking prescribed methadone.
In most cases, the medicine does not impair someone’s ability to think, make decisions, perform physical activities or complete tasks. Most medications do come with potential side effects that may occur. According to one study of patients receiving methadone treatment for chronic pain issues, only a quarter of people experienced some variation of the following side effects:5
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Mood changes like agitation, depression, or anxiety
- Gastrointestinal issues like nausea, constipation, or vomiting
Most people who are taking methadone will not experience these side effects from the medication and instead will see an improvement in the areas they are treating with the methadone.
How Long Does Methadone Treatment Last?
The length of time your employee may be prescribed methadone is unique to each person’s situation and will vary based on many factors. If they are taking methadone as part of their treatment of an opioid addiction, they can expect to be taking the drug for a minimum of one year, and it is not uncommon for someone to continue taking methadone for several years in what’s known as methadone maintenance.6 As an employer, it’s helpful for you to understand that methadone treatment is a long-term plan of care that is supervised by medical professionals.
Is Methadone Safe and Effective?
Methadone is a highly effective drug for treating opioid use disorder and chronic pain conditions. The World Health Organization even termed it as an “essential medicine” in a 2005 report about effective treatments for opioid use disorder.7
Methadone is a safe drug when used as prescribed. Currently, methadone can only be dispensed at a federally-approved opioid treatment program (OTP) in which people are required to take the medication on-site under the supervision of a medical professional. They may get approved to take dosages home after they have been in a program for a long time and can show that they will follow dosage instructions responsibly.
You may wonder if using methadone to treat an opioid addiction is swapping one addiction for another, but this is a common misconception. Addiction isn’t simply physiological—it’s a pattern of uncontrollable drug use regardless of negative consequences. Taking methadone everyday as part of a medication-assisted treatment program can lead to physical dependence, which means your employee will need to take it every day to avoid withdrawal symptoms, but dependence is a normal adaptation and does not indicate an addiction. However, because it is an opioid medication, methadone can be addictive but only if the employee is misusing it to get high.
Methadone has proven to be extremely effective in treating an opioid use disorder. Studies have shown that using methadone along with other behavioral therapies can produce the following outcomes:7
- Decrease opioid use
- Prevent opioid overdoses and death
- Reduce engagement in criminal activities
- Lower the chance of contracting an infectious disease through drug use
- Increase the likelihood of continuing with long-term treatment
- Improve relationships and job functioning
Another study also shows that those who receive methadone treatment report feeling improvements in their overall physical and emotional health, sleeping patterns, appetite, and even positive changes in their physical appearance.8 The benefits go beyond just the person receiving methadone, as the study shows that after six months of being on methadone treatment, the overall health of the patient’s dependents also dramatically increased.8
Will Methadone Show Up on a Drug Test?
Yes, methadone will show up on most standard drug tests. However, you may be surprised to see a positive result for methadone from an employee if you were unaware of their prescribed methadone treatments. This is because most industries do not require an employee to disclose to an employer that they are taking methadone for medical purposes. In fact, prescribed methadone is protected under the American Disabilities Act (ADA) which means you as an employer cannot fire or choose not to hire someone based on the presence of methadone on a drug test.
Another important bit of methadone information for employers pertains to what shows up on a drug test. Methadone does show up separate from other opioids on a drug test, so you can know if other opiates are being used by the employee that warrant further action from you as an employer. Methadone is a safe and necessary drug used by many people across industries, and the presence of the drug on a drug test should not initiate negative consequences for the employee.
If you or someone you know has an addiction, you can call 800-530-0431Who Answers? to speak to a rehab support specialist about treatment options.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017). Trends in the Use of Methadone, Buprenorphine, and Extended-release Naltrexone at Substance Abuse Treatment Facilities.
- College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia. (2016). Methadone for Analgesia Guidelines.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. How do medications to treat opioid use disorder work?.
- National Library of Medicine. (2020). Opiate and opioid withdrawal.
- Kheradmand, A., Banazadeh, N., Abedi, H. (2010). Physical Effects of Methadone Maintenance Treatment from the Standpoint of Clients. Addiction and Health, 2(3-4): 66-73.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition).
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. Effective Treatments for Opioid Addiction | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
- Macey, T.A., Weimer, M.B., Grimaldi, E.M., Dobscha, S. K., Morasco, B.J. (2013). Patterns of Care and Side Effects for Patients Prescribed Methadone for Treatment of Chronic Pain. Journal of Opioid Management, 9(5): 325-333.