Your clinician has prescribed methadone for pain or shortness of breath. The following information addresses questions frequently asked by patients or families about this medication:
What is methadone?
• Methadone is an opiate medication in the same family as morphine.
• It is used to treat many types of pain or to help with breathing.
• It is NOT related to methamphetamines (“meth”). Although methadone is used to treat heroin addiction, the use of methadone for pain or shortness of breath is very different from its use for treating addiction.
Why choose methadone?
• Methadone is the only long-acting opiate that comes in a liquid form and a tablet that can be divided or crushed. This allows it to be used when swallowing pills is difficult.
• It may be more helpful for nerve pain than the other opiates.
• Methadone may be beneficial in treatment of pain when side effects of other opiates limit any further dose increase.
What should I know about methadone?
• Methadone should be used only for chronic or cancer pain—it is usually not used for acute or short-term pain.
• The best pain relief occurs if methadone is taken at regular times around the clock, usually every 8 hours.
• Methadone can take longer than other opiates to reach full effectiveness. Significant pain relief may take up to 3–5 days after a methadone dose change. Because of this, your clinician may need to wait 3–5 days between dose adjustments and will prescribe a fast-acting pain medication to use, as needed, for breakthrough pain during this time.
• As with many medications, response varies among individuals. It is important to monitor and report your response and any possible side effects to your health care team.
• Never stop, start, or adjust methadone dose without clinician approval.
• Methadone should NEVER be used by someone other than the person for whom it is prescribed. If used incorrectly, methadone can cause sedation, slowed breathing and even death.
Are there side effects?
• Constipation is common with any opiate and rarely resolves without treatment. Medications to prevent constipation are recommended with start of methadone treatment.
The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but are not a substitute for medical diagnosis.
For specific information concerning your personal situation or medical condition, JPM suggests that you consult your physician.
This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. Any
other print or online reproduction is subject to approval by the publisher: Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. To purchase bulk reprints, call 914-740-2100.
• In rare cases, methadone may cause increased sleepiness or slowed breathing. Call your care team if these
symptoms occur while taking methadone. Do not adjust or stop the methadone without discussing with
your care team.
• All opiates may cause drowsiness, mild confusion, nausea or itching. Any new symptoms should be reported.
Some side effects may go away over time with continued use of the medication.
• Some medications may interact with methadone. Nonprescription items such as St. John’s wort, cimetidine
(Tagamet), and grapefruit juice may affect levels of methadone. It is important to review your medications
with your care team and let them know before making any changes in medication (including nonprescription)
while you are taking methadone.
Your care team will be able to answer any other questions you might have, so please ask if there is something
else you would like to know about this medication.
Care team can be reached at: _________________________________________
Address reprint requests to:
Laura De Simone, M.S.
Continuing Care Services
Hospice and Palliative Care
2701 NW Vaughn Street, Suite 140
Portland, OR 97210
1438 JPM PATIENT INFORMATION
JOURNAL OF PALLIATIVE MEDICINE
Volume 10, Number 5, 2007
© Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.
Methadone Information for Patients and Families
Laura De Simone, M.S., R.Ph.
JPM Patient Information
Feature Editor: Jocelyn White