How It Works

Methadone (Dolophine, Methadose) is a synthetic opioid agonist that eliminates withdrawal symptoms and relieves drug cravings by acting on opioid receptors in the brain—the same receptors that other opioids such as heroin, morphine, and opioid pain medications activate. Though it occupies and activates these opioid receptors, it does so more slowly than other opioids and, in an opioid-dependent person, treatment doses do not produce euphoria when stabilized and following the treatment plan.

Facts About Methadone

  • Methadone has been used successfully for more than 50 years to treat opioid use disorder.
  • Taken under a doctor’s orders, it does not cause harm to body organs, nor does it alter someone’s ability to clearly think and function when stabilized under the medication and following the treatment plan.
  • This treatment option prevents cravings and withdrawal but does not block the effects of other opioids.
  • Methadone for treatment of addiction must be dispensed through specialized opioid treatment programs and is given orally by rigorously controlled protocols.
  • Compared to those not receiving medication assisted treatment, opioid overdose deaths decreased by over 50% for those receiving methadone following a nonfatal overdose.
  • Patients are started on a low dose and increased slowly over days and weeks with monitoring, as it takes four or more days for the body to adjust to a dose change. Because methadone is an opioid, this is necessary to avoid the risk of overdose. The risk of overdose is highest within the first two weeks of starting treatment.

Important Information About Methadone Use

  • Using alcohol, benzodiazepine, or other sedatives with methadone increases the risk of overdose and death.
  • Plan to avoid driving or operating heavy machinery until your dose is stabilized.
  • Keep take-home doses locked up and out of the reach of others. Know that for people who have never used opioids, accidentally taking this medicine can be fatal, especially for children. Visit our Safe Medication Storage and Disposal page for locations of where to take your medicine.
  • Tell your doctor if you become pregnant.
  • Understand that stopping methadone increases your risk of overdose death if you return to illicit opioid use.

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Medication-Assisted Treatment Options