Avoiding Accidental Methadone Overdose

Karen Lee Richards Health Guide
  • The anniversary of Anna Nicole Smith’s death and the inquest of her son Daniel have once again brought the topic of drug overdoses involving methadone to the forefront.
    There has been a dramatic rise in methadone overdoses over the past 10 years. Originally used primarily for treating drug abuse, methadone is increasingly being prescribed for the treatment of chronic pain when other analgesics do not provide adequate pain relief.

    The FDA recently repeated a 2007 Public Health Advisory cautioning healthcare practitioners about avoiding overdoses when they are prescribing methadone or managing patient taking it. They issued the advisory because of reports of life-threatening adverse events and death in patients receiving methadone for pain control. Part of the problem may that some physicians prescribing methadone may not fully understand the drug’s complex pharmacology. There can be serious adverse reactions connected with methadone, such as:
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    • Like other opioids, methadone causes respiratory depression.
    • Methadone can cause serious cardiac conduction effects, including prolonged QT intervals and serious arrhythmias.
    • Methadone interacts with many other drugs, some of which can slow its elimination from the body, increasing the likelihood of overdose.
    Following are things you need to know if you are currently taking methadone or considering taking methadone:
    • Pain relief from methadone does not last as long as the drug stays in your body. It takes from 8 to 59 hours for methadone to be eliminated from your body, but its pain relieving effects only last from 4 to 8 hours.
    • The pain relieving effects of methadone increase gradually over a week or more. It will be more effective after you have been taking it for a while.
    • Methadone can cause your breathing to slow or even stop.
    • Methadone can cause life-threatening changes to your heartbeat that you may not feel.
    • Tell your doctor if you start or stop other medications, as they can cause serious interactions with methadone as well as lessening its pain relieving effects.
    • Tell your doctor if you are breastfeeding because methadone is secreted into human milk and babies can experience the same serious side effects as the mother.
    Get medical attention right away if you experience any of the following while taking methadone:
    • Heart palpitations.
    • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting.
    • Shallow breathing.
    • Extreme tiredness or sleepiness.
    • Blurred vision
    • Inability to think, talk or walk normally.
    Download a copy of the Patient Package Insert that comes with methadone.
Published On: February 11, 2008