Treating Methadone Overdose
Can You Overdose on Methadone?
Methadone is an opioid medication used to help people who are recovering from an addiction to other opioid drugs.
Taking too much methadone can lead to an overdose and have serious physical and mental health effects. A methadone overdose can be fatal, and the person needs emergency medical attention.
Learn more about a methadone overdose, including:
- Causes of overdose.
- Signs and symptoms of an overdose.
- Treatment for an overdose.
- Recovery from an overdose.
Causes of Methadone Overdose
Methadone is a prescription synthetic opioid that is used to help users detox and remain abstinent from other opioid drugs such as heroin. When prescribed by a doctor, methadone is provided in small units intended for daily use, either through a medically supervised center or through a drug take-home program.
Even though methadone is safe when taken as prescribed, it can be abused. Misuse of the drug greatly increases the chance of an overdose.
A person can overdose on methadone if he or she: 2
- Takes an extra dose.
- Misuses it by taking higher or more frequent doses than prescribed.
- Mixes it with other drugs, such as alcohol, other opioids, or benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium).
Overdoses on prescription opioids have quadrupled since 1999. More than 14,000 people died from prescription opioid overdoses in 2014, and methadone was one of the most commonly implicated drugs in these deaths. 1
Overdose Risk Factors
- History of substance abuse disorders.
- Prescription for a high dose.
- Being male.
- Older age.
- Multiple prescriptions that include benzodiazepines.
- Presence of mental health conditions.
- Lower socioeconomic status. 3
Methadone Addiction Signs and Symptoms
The following symptoms may indicate a methadone overdose: 2,4
- Slowed, shallow, or altogether stopped breathing
- Slowed or stopped heart beat
- Pale or clammy skin
- Bluish fingernails or lips
- Nausea and vomiting
- Constricted pupils
- Muscle twitches
Take along the packaging that contained the methadone to aid in treatment. It’s also a good idea to note the time the methadone was taken, the amount of methadone taken, and the person’s age, weight, and condition. 4
Methadone Overdose Treatment
Once the person reaches the emergency room, his or her vital signs will be measured and monitored, and any symptoms will be treated.
- Administration of naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of overdose (however, it can also send someone into withdrawal immediately).
- Activated charcoal to help remove methadone and prevent further absorption.
- Some form of ventilation assistance or breathing support if needed.
- IV fluids.
- Insertion of a tube through the mouth to purge stomach contents (gastric lavage). 4
Can You Die From a Methadone Overdose?
Methadone, like other opioids, can slow certain processes in the central nervous system that control breathing, heart rate, and other vital functions. High doses of methadone can therefore lead to respiratory depression and death. 3
In addition, combining methadone with other central nervous system depressants, such as alcohol and other sedative medications, amplifies the depressing effect on the central nervous system and increases the risk of death from slowed or stopped breathing or heart rate. 3
That said, non-fatal overdoses are several times more common than fatal overdoses. 3 The risk of death will depend on how much the person took, whether they took other drugs, and how quickly they receive care.
Use of Naloxone
Naloxone (Narcan) is an opioid antagonist drug that can reverse the effects of a methadone overdose and potentially save the person’s life. Friends and family members can become trained in how to administer naloxone, and access to the drug is increasing around the country.
Recovering From an Overdose
Recovery from a methadone overdose depends largely on how much methadone the person took and how quickly he or she gets help. Since methadone is a long-lasting opioid, the person will likely be kept in the hospital for at least a full day to overcome the lingering effects of the drug and to ensure that any treatment given was effective.
Complications from a methadone overdose can include:
- Pneumonia, often as a result of aspirated stomach contents.
- Muscle damage secondary to prolonged loss of consciousness on hard surfaces.
- Brain damage from lack of oxygen. 4
Getting Treatment for Substance Abuse
After being treated for an overdose, many people are either referred to a recovery program or choose to attend one to get help for substance abuse. A treatment program can help you understand why you abuse methadone or other drugs, prevent future overdoses, and address any underlying medical or mental health conditions that contributed to your methadone abuse.
Types of recovery programs available for methadone addiction include:
- Inpatient rehab centers. Inpatient methadone treatment programs provide 24-hour supervision and treatment services including medical detox, counseling, and access to medical care. Users live in a community with other people recovering from an addiction to methadone or other drugs. Medical professionals may use a tapering approach that includes gradually weaning the person off methadone to mitigate any withdrawal effects or cravings.
- Outpatient rehab centers. Outpatient programs do not require you to reside at the facility. You attend group or individual counseling on certain days of the week for a few hours at a time. These programs may not offer detox or medical care.
- 12-step programs. These include programs such as Narcotics Anonymous that provide a step-by-step recovery program and the support of people who are also recovering from drug addiction.
When choosing a program, consider:
- The location: Do you want to stay close to home, or get away from any relapse triggers?
- The cost: How much will your insurance cover, and does the program offer flexible payment options?
- Accreditation: Accredited programs are held to a higher standard of care and are likely to use evidence-based treatments backed by research.
- Visitation policies: Does the clinic or facility allow family visiting or include the family in the treatment process?
- Dual diagnosis: Can the program simultaneously treat any other issues, such as depression, anxiety, or medical problems?
Find a Recovery Center
Recovering from methadone overdose can be a slow process, but once you receive treatment, you can face the world sober again. For help locating a recovery center that fits your particular needs, call .
. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Prescription Opioid Overdose Data.
. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2016). Opioid Overdose.
. World Health Organization. (2014). Information sheet on opioid overdose.
. National Library of Medicine. (2015). Methadone overdose.