Important Facts About Methadone Overdose and How To Recognize It

Last Updated: June 24, 2020

Authored by Olivier George, Ph.D.

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

When used in moderation and as directed by qualified medical personnel, methadone is vital in the treatment of chronic pain and addiction to opioids. However, when someone takes more than the recommended amount, they can suffer from a methadone overdose.

The methadone uses that are not sanctioned by a doctor can lead to several unpleasant effects on the body. Read on to learn more about the possibilities of a methadone OD, the symptoms and deadly aftermath of the overdose, as well as the ways to help someone who has taken copious amounts of the synthetic opioid.

Is It Possible To OD On Methadone?

Can you overdose on methadone? Yes, it is possible to overdose on the medication. Because of the conditions that the drug is indicated for, it has a high ability for misuse and overdose.

Since this drug is a narcotic too, the recovering opioid addicts take more of the medication to replicate similar sedative and euphoric effects conferred onto them by the more addictive opioids like heroin.

In such situations, therefore, it is very much possible to overdose on the drug.

Additionally, methadone intoxication can also occur if the patient takes the drug alongside other analgesics like morphine, oxycontin, and hydrocodone.

How Much Methadone It Takes To Overdose

When someone is suffering from moderate to severe chronic pain, doctors usually prescribe an average methadone dosage of 2.5 milligrams to be administered every 8 to 12 hours, with the dosage increasing every 3 to 5 days. Furthermore, if the patient is trying to recover from opioid addiction, they are given 20 milligrams to 30 milligrams of the medication – taken twice a day.

So, how much methadone to overdose?

Methadone OD Symptoms

When a patient has taken a higher dosage of the medication than that recommended, they are very likely to present with various signs and symptoms of methadone use without qualified medical supervision.

It’s worth noting that the methadone overdose side effects affect various parts of the body. Overdose on this medication affects the nervous system, the lungs, heart, as well as the skin and eyes plus the digestive system.

man with methadone od symptoms

These signs of a methadone overdose include:

  • Respiratory problems in the form of shallow and labored breathing
  • Drowsiness
  • Disorientation
  • Fatigue
  • Falling into a coma in severe instances
  • Muscle twitches
  • A weak pulse and low blood pressure
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Constricted pupils
  • Stomach and intestinal spasms
  • Bluish tinge in the lips and fingernails

Is It Possible To Die Because Of Methadone Abuse?

In 2017, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report that indicated that of all opioids used for pain management, methadone made up only 1 percent. However, when it came to misuse and overdose of narcotic analgesics, the drug accounted for 23 percent of deaths.

Can methadone kill one? The evidence seems to suggest that it can. This is more so when one overdoses on this synthetic painkilling opioid.

So what happens when you overdose on methadone? A person experiences life-threatening effects like labored breathing, low pressure, and falling into a coma that can quickly lead to death.

What To Do If Someone Overdoses On Methadone

Witnessing someone who has overdosed on this drug can be a scary experience. During this event, however, a person needs to keep their wits about them to prevent a methadone overdose death and save a life.

woman calling an emergency

Here is what to do if someone is experiencing the effects of an overdose:

  1. If the person is unconscious, check that they are still breathing.
  2. Identify how much of this medication they ingested and the time since they took it
  3. Immediately call emergency medical personnel. The most important thing is to get medical help as soon as possible.
  4. Tell the emergency respondents as much information as possible. The person’s age, the amount of the drug, and how long ago plus if the person is unconscious or breathing. Also, inform the emergency personnel about any other substances the patient was taking
  5. In the meantime, as medical help comes, tend to the patient.
  6. If they aren’t breathing, perform rescue breathing. Tilt the patient’s head and lift their chin. Take a deep breath and breathe twice into the patient’s mouth; each breath lasting a second. Check their chest to see if it’s rising and falling.
  7. Continue this CPR until medical help arrives or until the patient starts breathing on their own.
  8. Turn the patient to the side so that they don’t choke on their vomit
  9. Keep the patient warm and wait for the emergency services to arrive.

How Is Methadone OD Treated?

Since this medication is an opioid, an overdose can be treated by administering a drug that reverses the respiratory depression. A study published in the Critical Care journal reveals that buprenorphine is one such drug. It is used because it acts for a longer period, and there are fewer chances of the patient experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

Does Narcan work on methadone? Yes, it does because the latter is an opioid. Naloxone acts for a shorter period and is likely to set off withdrawal symptoms.

The study further states that they can also use a combination of naloxone and buprenorphine (Suboxone).

To prevent a repeat of the overdose, the patient can be put on a supervised methadone detox regimen. This is to ensure that they don’t abuse the drug and can also experience fewer symptoms of withdrawal.

Methadone Abuse And Overdose Risks

Although this drug has its beneficial uses, it can be abused to get the euphoric and sedative effects of opioids or to manage persistent pain. However, when abused, a patient runs the risk of overdosing.

This resultant acute methadone intoxication presents itself in the form of difficult respiratory function, disorientation, and a host of other symptoms. Does methadone make one sleep? It does. Abuse of the drug can also cause severe brain damage.

To combat this, a patient needs professional methadone rehabilitation treatment so that they can safely kick the habit and prevent any life-threatening consequences.


Page Sources

  1. https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/mtgs/methadone_alert/forensic_examiner_17_38_2008.pdf
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6612a2.htm

Published on: November 30th, 2016

Updated on: June 24th, 2020

About Author

Olivier George, Ph.D.

Olivier George is a medical writer and head manager of the rehab center in California. He spends a lot of time in collecting and analyzing the traditional approaches for substance abuse treatment and assessing their efficiency.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.

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