Methadone is a synthetic opiate medication used to relieve moderate to severe pain. As a synthetic opioid, it can also help relieve withdrawal symptoms of real opioids, like heroin and morphine. Taking methadone can produce effects similar to taking heorin or morphine, in addition to being habit-forming. There are many side effects of methadone, including nausea and vomiting, difficulty urinating, and missed menstrual periods. Methadone is usually prescribed by a doctor when non-narcotic drugs have failed, and its use is often heavily supervised due to its potential for abuse.
The side effects of methadone can be mild to life-threatening, depending on the person and the dosage used. If the drug is being used according to a doctor’s orders, mild symptoms might include drowsiness, headache, and weight gain. More severe symptoms might include seizures, insomnia, and anorexia. If the patient were to overdose on the drug, symptoms are similar to that of an opiate overdose. The patient will experience heightened effects of methadone, a reduced heartbeat rate, and a gradual shutdown of the respiratory system.
Health professionals are sometimes reluctant to prescribe methadone for pain. On top of being addicting, the length of time that it affects a patient varies based on genetics. Methadone lasts longer than some similar drugs, and is capable of affecting a person for anywhere from four to 190 hours. Often, the patient is monitored to judge how quickly he or she is metabolizing the drug and if more frequent doses are needed.
Sometimes, even when following the directions of a doctor, the effects of methadone are overdose and death. Occasionally, a doctor does not fully understand how slowly methadone can be metabolized in some people, leading to potentially lethal doses. At least one type of drug, called a narcotic agonist, is known to stop the effects of a methadone overdose, but this is not helpful if the patient is alone and unconscious, or if emergency responders do not reach him or her quickly enough.
There are no known long-term effects of methadone on children born to addicted mothers or mothers on methadone therapy. The child may experience withdrawal symptoms and cry for long periods of time. He or she should develop normally and eventually recover from the addiction. The effects of methadone on children that have accidentally ingested the drug can be fatal, but there is hope if treatment is not delayed. Some doctors that prescribe methadone require the patients to keep it in a locked box to avoid children coming in contact with it.