Methadone has a half-life between 8-59 hours, which is the length of time needed for half the dose to be eliminated from a person’s system. It takes as many as five half-lives for the drug to leave the body entirely. For this reason, methadone can remain in the body for up to 12 days.
The amount of time that methadone may be identified in a person’s system depends on the type of test being administered, which includes urine, blood, hair, and saliva:
- Urine tests may identify methadone exposure after 24 hours and for up to two weeks.
- Blood tests can identify methadone as soon as three hours after it’s been consumed orally and for up to 60 hours.
- Hair tests can detect the presence of methadone within 7-10 days after the last use and for up to 90 days.
- Saliva tests can detect methadone 10 minutes after ingestion and for as long as ten days.
Several factors influence how long methadone and its metabolites stay in a person’s system, including the following:
- Metabolic rate
- Liver health
- Duration of use
- Frequency of use
- Dosage amount
- Use or abuse of other substances
What Is Methadone?
Methadone (e.g., Dolophine, Methadose) is a synthetic opioid used to address pain or help opioid-dependent people transition from the use of more potent drugs, such as heroin. It can effectively relieve withdrawal symptoms and cravings related to opioids. When used to manage pain, methadone is usually only prescribed to those experiencing chronic pain that has not responded well to other methods of treatment.
Methadone is usually prescribed as a tablet or liquid solution that is consumed orally. In some instances, doctors may administer the drug by intravenous injection.
Methadone’s effects are typically felt within 30 minutes of use and last for 8-12 hours. The prescribing physician should closely monitor dosages and side effects and can modify the prescription if needed.
Methadone as a Treatment for Opioid Addiction
Methadone has become commonly prescribed because it is often more cost-effective than other prescription painkillers. SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) reports that methadone works by changing the brain and central nervous system responses to pain. When administered, methadone acts as a full opioid agonist and attaches to opioid receptors in the brain.
Methadone blocks the uncomfortable symptoms of opioid withdrawal and also many of the euphoric effects of opioids. In conjunction with comprehensive therapy and peer group participation, methadone can help individuals recover from opioid addiction.
According to SAMHSA, all persons receiving methadone for opioid addiction must be actively participating in a drug rehab program. In this way, healthcare professionals and addiction specialists can administer and monitor methadone for each individual. In fact, methadone can only be legally acquired through a certified opioid treatment program.
Common side effects of methadone use include:
- Swollen legs
- Swollen arms
- Rash or hives
- Chest pain
- Trouble sleeping
- Nausea and vomiting
Methadone has oft-been successfully used as a treatment for those with opioid substance use disorders. When used properly as prescribed, it can be a life-altering remedy. However, it still has the potential for abuse as it can produce feelings of reward and pleasure similar to those related to other opioids.
Drug Testing for Methadone
While methadone is typically eliminated from an individual’s system within a week and a half, traces of the drug can be identified for much longer in many cases. Employers, addiction rehab programs, and law enforcement personnel may all require someone to take a methadone drug test for one reason or another.
Standard drug tests usually look for opioids, such as heroin, but they don’t screen for methadone. For this reason, specialized tests must be conducted to screen for potential methadone use.
Urine Testing – Urine testing is likely the most commonly used method of methadone testing. The detection window in a person’s system is one hour to two weeks following the last use. Urine tests are non-invasive, relatively inexpensive, easy to administer and have a long detection period. Therefore, they are usually the favored means of testing for this substance.
Saliva Testing – Saliva tests are also a non-invasive, convenient way to identify methadone exposure. Traces of methadone can be found in saliva 30 minutes after ingestion and remain there for several days following the last use.
Blood Testing – Methadone can be detected in the blood 30 minutes following use and is detectable for about 60 hours. Blood tests are quite accurate, but are also more invasive, expensive, and have a relatively brief detection window. For these reasons, they are not commonly used for methadone testing.
Hair Testing – Hair tests may be appropriate to identify methadone use that has occurred over time. A person with a chronic habit will have evidence of methadone in their hair follicles. Moreover, an individual who has just started taking methadone will not show the presence of the drug in their hair for at least one week after use.
It has been generally accepted that methadone is expelled from a person’s body entirely within two weeks. Heroin, however, has a much shorter half-life than methadone. Because of this, it is purged out of the body much more rapidly, possibly taking less than an hour. Morphine, however, can take up to 48 hours to clear from a person’s system. This is important because heroin is converted back into morphine in the body, so the detection of morphine may suggest heroin use.
Methadone Addiction and Dependence
Like all opioids, methadone has the potential for abuse, dependence, and addiction. Methadone must be taken as prescribed by a healthcare professional and not for longer than needed. Factors such as a history of alcohol abuse, mental health disorders, and heart or breathing issues can increase a person’s likelihood of experiencing adverse side effects.
Physical dependence on methadone can develop if it is used regularly for an extended period. Once physical dependence manifests, an individual will experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when he or she tries to quit using methadone.
The withdrawal timeline is similar to that of other opioids. It is likely to begin within two days after the last use and can last from 7–10 days. Severe side effects, such as severe dehydration, have occurred in persons who have abruptly stopped taking methadone “cold turkey.”
Common methadone withdrawal symptoms include the following:
- Stomach cramps
- Sleep disturbances
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive sweating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Body aches and pains
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Increased breathing rate
- Accelerated heart rate
When administered as directed, methadone will be closely monitored by healthcare professionals and only used for a brief period, so the risk of dependence and addiction is lower.
Treatment for Opioid Addiction
Methadone is a commonly used remedy for those who are opioid-dependent. However, methadone itself carries the potential for abuse, dependence, and addiction. As such, people have found themselves seeking methadone treatment, regardless of whether it was prescribed to them or obtained illicitly.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers offer partial hospitalization and residential programs that specialize in the treatment of opioid addiction and other substance abuse disorders. We feature therapies clinically-proven to be beneficial for the recovery process, including psychotherapy, counseling, group support, medication-assisted treatment, mindfulness therapy, aftercare planning, and much more.