What is Methadone?

Methadone is a synthetic opioid, which is used to treat chronic pain but it is most commonly used as a substitute treatment in the treatment of heroin and opiate drug withdrawal. It has several properties that make it a safer substitute for opioids and heroin in particular. These include:

  • A long duration of action so it can be taken once daily
  • being available in liquid form which deters injecting
  • having a relatively little euphoriant effect, thus eliminating withdrawal symptoms without reinforcing continued use

The drug can be used in reducing doses for detoxification or in non-reducing doses for maintenance.

Generic/brand names for methadone

  • Physeptone
  • Methadose
  • Dolophine

Slang terms 

  • Meth
  • Green
  • Linctus
  • Jungle Juice
  • Green Death

The history of methadone

The drug was invented as a substitute for morphine by German scientists during the Second World War when morphine was in very short supply. Although it is chemically different from morphine, its effects are similar.  Methadone has a much longer effect than morphine or heroin, lasting up to 24 hours, and less likely to cause addiction, making it a useful drug for severe pain. (1)

In 1947, the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly began to manufacture the drug in the United States as the pain-relief drug Dolophine.

Why it is used?

The drug continues to be used for severe chronic pain, especially for cancer patients. Now the most common use is as a maintenance drug for narcotic addicts. In theory, addicts are better able to tolerate withdrawal from their addiction. Unfortunately, many of these addicts simply add methadone to their other narcotic habits or even sell it for illicit use by others. For this reason, prescription programmes are very tightly controlled under specific guidelines by the NHS.

Methadone is effective both orally and by injection and is usually given once a day as a large pill or in a green coloured liquid.

What does it do?

It has a slow metabolic rate meaning that it stays in the system for longer than other, morphine-based, products. This makes it ideal for helping heroin addicts, as the desire for a ‘hit’ is kept at bay for longer. As a solution, the amount prescribed is easier to monitor.

Most common side effects

Methadone side effects are:

  • numbness
  • euphoria
  • dry skin and mouth
  • constipation
  • slow pulse
  • low blood pressure
  • pinpoint pupils

Taking too much will result in:

  • nausea
  • vomiting,
  • sweating,
  • feeling faint
  • a general feeling of tiredness and weakness.

Like other opiates, methadone can also cause respiratory depression, and many deaths have occurred from an overdose. (2)

Taken under medical supervision, methadone can reduce harm BUT bought on the street it can kill. Perhaps the most dangerous long-term adverse effects associated with the drug is carelessness with the drug as it is unsafe to take other drugs such as Valium, heroin, other opiates or alcohol along with the drug.

How long does methadone stay in your system?

Estimating how long it is detectable in a person’s body depends on several aspects, such as the persons age, their weight, their percentage of body fat, how active the person is, and their hydration levels. There are some estimated ranges of times or windows during which methadone can be detected by various analysis methods. However, in urine, this window is six to 12 days. A blood test can detect the drug for up to 24 hours, and a saliva test can detect it for one to 10 days.

What is methadone maintenance treatment?

Many individuals are unwilling or unable to undergo abstinence-orientated treatment. This introduces the option of prescribing a substitute drug such as methadone. Maintenance treatment with eliminates withdrawal symptoms and allows individuals to address concurrent issues. Thus a patient on maintenance may be able to stop injecting, stop illicit drug use, reintegrate with their family and non-drug using friends, obtain stable accommodation and resume education or employment. For some, the period of maintenance may be short and precede detoxification – sometimes known as ‘maintenance to abstinence ‘ treatment.

For others, methadone maintenance may be indefinite or even life-long. The dose of required for maintenance treatment is usually more than the minimal dose that relieves withdrawal symptoms. The typical dose of 15 to 30 milligrams per day, which has a potency of 1mg/1ml (30ml liquid dose equalling 30mg of methadone). (3)

Is methadone addictive?

Although tolerance and addiction may occur, withdrawal is milder than from morphine or heroin. As with any opiate, addiction is a commonplace side effect. However, the patient is usually monitored by their doctor, and the dose is reduced over time as the condition improves, Addiction to the drug can come about if it is used to produce a ‘high’. As time goes on and tolerance builds, more of the drug is needed for the same effect.

What class is methadone

Methadone is a Class A Drug. It is illegal to possess, sell, or give away.

Being found in possession could mean a seven-year prison sentence.

If you supply methadone to another person, even if you give it to someone you know, you could face a life prison sentence.

How does the drug make you feel?

When taken by mouth, the effect can usually hit within the hour. The drug produces a general sense of wellbeing, and for some, it can create a feeling of euphoria.

Methadone like heroin isolates the user from feelings of anxiety and pain, both physical and emotional, although the effect differs from that of heroin in that it is described as a steady plateau with little of the euphoria and sedation that is produced with heroin.

A common misconception of the drug is that it is a ‘type of Heroin’. This is incorrect. It is, in fact, very chemically different but still excites the opioid receptors in the brain, relieving the excessive stress levels seen in heroin users that are trying to abstain from or quit heroin (2).

Detox programs

Methadone reduction is most likely to succeed if the patient has managed to stabilise without using any street heroin. For those who are motivated to detoxify, admission to an inpatient detox facility is recommended. Dose reduction can then proceed more quickly but will depend on the amount of usage.  However, because these rapid reductions will result in peak withdrawal symptoms at the time of their final dose, further therapy and support is required to reduce withdrawal symptoms to become minimal.

What to do if I think I have an addiction?

If you think you or your friend has a problem, is addicted or is abusing methadone, contact Rehab Guide 02072052845 today to enquire about a medical detox and rehab programme.






Author 'John


Trained in addictionology in the Johnson Model, and specializing in substance abuse for individual and couple counselling. John's personal experience has given him a wealth of insights, which he integrates into practice. His extensive training has allowed him to gain expertise in individual and group counselling, concurrent disorders, case management, executing treatment plans and relapse prevention. He started this free helpline as a result of a life change and to help others get sober and live a life free from drugs and alcohol. John covers a variety of topics relating to addiction and recovery in his articles.


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