How Long Does Methadone Stay in Your System?

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Taking Methadone With Other Drugs Is Dangerous. Getty Images

Methadone is an opiate analgesic—a narcotic pain medication that's sometimes prescribed for people who aren't getting enough relief from another analgesic. Like other opioids, it works by changing the way the brain and the rest of the nervous system respond to the sensation of pain.

Interestingly, methadone is used most often to help prevent withdrawal symptoms in people who've become addicted to other opiates such as heroin, and who are undergoing treatment to break that addiction.

Withdrawal from a drug like heroin can be excruciating. Methadone helps to ease the process by producing sensations that are similar to the effects of the drug.

The High Risk of Methadone Overdose

Methadone is a powerful medication and it remains active in the system long after its analgesic effects wear off. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that while pain relief from methadone can last from four to eight hours, it can take between eight and 59 hours for the drug to fully clear from the body.

This means that someone who's taking it for pain relief may think they need to take a second dose before a first one has completely cleared from his system, potentially causing him to take too much of the drug. This can lead to a coma or even be fatal, so it's important to know the early symptoms of a methadone overdose. These include slowed breathing; sleepiness; muscle weakness; cold, clammy skin; changes in the size of pupils (they can become narrower or wider); and slowed heart rate.

If you think someone has overdosed on methadone, get emergency help right away. If caught early, it may be reversed with a drug called Narcan (naloxone).

Preventing an overdose of methadone is one reason it's important to know how long it can stay in the body. Another is that because it affects the central nervous system, certain other substances that affect the central nervous system should always be avoided if there's any chance there's methadone in the system.

These include alcohol; antidepressants; other narcotic pain relievers; medications for anxiety, nausea, or mental illness; muscle relaxants; sedatives; sleeping pills; tranquilizers; and any type of street drug, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Testing for Methadone

Estimating how long methadone is detectable in a person's body depends on several factors, such as age, weight, percentage of body fat, how active a person is, and the level of hydration. Some health conditions can play a role in the rate at which drugs are metabolized by the body. The length and frequency of methadone use as well as the dosage also factor into the length of time it might be detectable.

There are some estimated ranges of times, or detection windows, during which methadone can be detected by various testing methods. However, in urine, this window is six to 12 days. A blood test for methadone can detect the drug for up to 24 hours and a saliva test can detect it for one to 10 days. Like many other drugs, methadone can be detected with a hair follicle test for up to 90 days.

Sources:

American Association for Clinical Chemistry. "Drugs of Abuse Testing." Lab Tests Online. Jan 2013.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Methadone." Drugs, Herbs, and Supplements.Jan 15, 2017.

U.S Food and Drug Administration. "Information For Healthcare Professionals; Methadone Hydrochloride." Aug, 23, 2013.

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