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Methadone is a long-acting opioid that can stay in the system for several days or even up to nearly two weeks in some cases. As a synthetic opioid, methadone is often used as part of treatment programs for opioid use disorder. Most commonly, methadone is used to help people with heroin addictions. Methadone is also a pain reliever. If you or a loved one take methadone, it is important to know how long you can expect the drug to stay in your body.
Methadone is an opioid and Schedule II controlled substance often prescribed to treat pain or opioid use disorder (OUD).
Therapeutic effects of methadone include alleviating withdrawal symptoms from OUD, reducing the perception of pain and preventing opioids from creating euphoria. Methadone doesn’t cure or treat opioid addiction. Rather, methadone is a safer replacement for other opioids.
When prescribed for OUD, methadone is often described as harm-reduction medication and is a cornerstone of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for OUD. A harm-reduction approach doesn’t require someone to stop using a substance completely, but it helps lower the risk of some more severe consequences like an overdose.
Methadone is often specifically prescribed because it can treat pain or OUD while preventing a euphoric high. However, that does not mean that methadone is free of other side effects. Common methadone effects include:
Methadone is a drug that kicks in slowly and can take up to five days for the drug’s full effects to show up. This is especially true when methadone is prescribed for pain. For this reason, doctors start methadone at very low doses and usually increase the dose no more frequently than once every few days. Increasing the dose sooner could increase the risk of overdose.
The duration of methadone’s effects depends on why a person takes the drug. When used for pain, methadone can last between four and eight hours. However, when the drug is prescribed for OUD, its effects can last for much longer, between 24 and 48 hours.
A drug’s half-life refers to the time it takes for half of it to be cleared from your system. With one half-life, the amount of drug found in a person’s body will be one-half of the original starting dose. Methadone’s half-life is notoriously long and can vary widely by person.
Although most people consider the half-life of methadone to be 8–59 hours, it can be up to 75 hours in people with OUD and up to 120 hours in people taking methadone for pain.
The half-life of methadone is likely to be shorter in someone with an existing opioid tolerance. The average half-life in this situation is approximately 24 hours. In someone who isn’t opioid-tolerant, the average half-life of methadone is about 55 hours.
Even after the drug’s effects have worn off, traces of methadone can linger in your body for days, weeks or months. The time methadone can be detected often depends on which body part is tested for methadone. Some tests for methadone include urine, hair, saliva and blood.
Methadone and its breakdown product EDDP (2-Ethylidene-1,5-dimethyl-3,3-diphenylpyrrolidine) can stay in your urine for up to 14 days.
A 1.5-inch sample of hair can detect methadone for up to 90 days following the last use.
Methadone can be found in the saliva for up to two days following its last use. However, methadone saliva tests are often unreliable and rarely used.
Methadone and its breakdown product EDDP (2-Ethylidene-1,5-dimethyl-3,3-diphenylpyrrolidine) can stay in your blood for up to 55 hours.
Methadone false positives are extremely rare but can sometimes occur. A false positive for methadone can happen when the drug test accidentally picks up the presence of different, chemically unrelated drugs. These drugs are generally not even opioids and include:
A methadone false positive can be retested using confirmation testing, which should correct the false positive.
Many factors can impact how long methadone stays in your system after the last use. These include:
The liver metabolizes methadone in the body. Multiple liver enzymes work together to break down methadone, including:
In addition, the liver also helps break down methadone using a process called N-demethylation. This process does not rely on enzymes and breaks off one carbon and three hydrogen atoms from methadone. N-demethylation creates the methadone breakdown product EDDP, which can be found in the blood and urine for days following the last methadone use.
Although methadone’s effects may wear off in a handful of hours, it can take days, weeks or months to remove traces of methadone from your system fully. Because specific liver enzymes break down the drug, there is nothing you can do to speed up this process. The body must wait for the liver enzymes to break down the drug and slowly eliminate the drug in both the urine and the feces.
If you or a loved one live with a methadone addiction, it is crucial to ask for help. At The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake, we can support you through detox, rehab, counseling and peer support programs. By addressing methadone addiction alongside any co-occurring disorders, individualized treatment plans cater to each person’s specific needs to ensure they receive the best treatment. Begin your healthier future today; call now.
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The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.
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