Methadone as an Option for Pain Relief

How safe is methadone, and could it be the best option for me?

Nurse giving older patient medication
Hybrid Images/Getty Images

Methadone is an opiate medication used to treat pain. It is becoming increasingly popular in the palliative care and hospice setting because of its efficacy, its lower number of adverse effects in comparison to other opiates, and its comparative inexpensiveness.

How Do I Take Methadone?

Methadone can be taken with or without food. It is available as a tablet, dispersible tablet, or liquid. The tablet may be taken with water or another liquid of choice.

The dispersible tablet may be dissolved in water or juice. If you take the liquid form of methadone, you can mix it in with a small amount of water or juice to dilute the taste if you wish.

What Precautions Should I Take?

You should always tell your health care provider about all of the medications you are taking. Methadone may interact with some of your medications, so it’s important that your doctor and pharmacist have a complete list of everything you're on.

You should also avoid grapefruit and grapefruit juice while taking methadone. It can cause your system to overload, keeping your liver too busy and blocking it from breaking down the methadone. 

Methadone may also make you drowsy. Avoid alcohol consumption while you're on this drug, as that can make it worse. Also avoid driving and other tasks that require your attention until you know how it’s going to affect you.

What are the Side Effects of Methadone and What Can I Do About Them?

Sleepiness, light-headedness and blurred vision or cloudy thinking: Take precautions for safety by avoiding driving or other tasks that require a clear mind until you know what your reaction is to the medication.

Dizziness: Take your time getting up from a sitting or lying down position. When lying down, sit up slowly and dangle your feet off the side of the bed or chair for a minute or two before standing.

Nausea and/or Vomiting: Eat smaller, more frequent meals. Sucking on hard candy or chewing gum may also help.

A cold wash cloth to the face and neck and fresh air can also be helpful. If nausea and vomiting are severe or persistent, your physician may prescribe anti-emetics to treat it.

Constipation: Drinking more liquids and eating a diet with adequate fiber can help combat constipation. Try to stay active or exercise if possible. Your doctor may also recommend a stool softener or laxative to prevent or treat constipation. Keep a log of your bowel movements and alert your health care provider if they start to slow down in frequency or become difficult to pass.

Why Would I Need to Call My Health Care Provider?

You would want to call your health care provider if you suspect an allergic reaction. Signs of a life-threatening reaction include tightness in the chest or throat, wheezing or difficulty breathing, severe itching, blue skin color, or swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat.

You should also contact your health care provider if your pain is not getting better or if you feel like you are receiving too much medication.

Signs that your dose may be too high include severe drowsiness, dizziness, or passing out, a significant change in your ability to think clearly, and a significant decrease in your breathing.

This information is not intended to be complete and cannot be tailored to each individual. Be sure to talk with your health care provider about any concerns you may have before starting methadone.

Sources:

Drugs A-Z at http://drugsaz.about.com

Methadone: Patient Drug Information. UpToDate.com.

Continue Reading