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Dolophine (Methadone Hydrochloride) - Warnings and Precautions



Addiction, Abuse, and Misuse

  •   DOLOPHINE exposes patients and other users to the risks of opioid addiction, abuse, and misuse, which can

lead to overdose and death. Assess each patient’s risk prior to prescribing DOLOPHINE, and monitor all patients regularly for the development of these behaviors or conditions [see Warnings and Precautions] .

Life-threatening Respiratory Depression

Serious, life-threatening, or fatal respiratory depression may occur with use of DOLOPHINE. Monitor for

respiratory depression, especially during initiation of DOLOPHINE or following a dose increase [see Warnings

and Precautions].

Accidental Ingestion

Accidental ingestion of even one dose of DOLOPHINE, especially by children, can result in a fatal overdose of

methadone [see Warnings and Precautions] .

Life-threatening QT Prolongation

QT interval prolongation and serious arrhythmia (torsades de pointes) have occurred during treatment with

methadone. Most cases involve patients being treated for pain with large, multiple daily doses of methadone,

although cases have been reported in patients receiving doses commonly used for maintenance treatment of

opioid addiction. Closely monitor patients for changes in cardiac rhythm during initiation and titration of

DOLOPHINE [see Warnings and Precautions] .

Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome

Prolonged use of DOLOPHINE during pregnancy can result in neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome, which

may be life-threatening if not recognized and treated, and requires management according to protocols

developed by neonatology experts. If opioid use is required for a prolonged period in a pregnant woman, advise

the patient of the risk of neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome and ensure that appropriate treatment will be

available [see Warnings and Precautions] .

Conditions For Distribution And Use Of Methadone Products For The Treatment Of Opioid Addiction

For detoxification and maintenance of opioid dependence, methadone should be administered in accordance

with the treatment standards cited in 42 CFR Section 8, including limitations on unsupervised administration

[see Indications and Usage] .



Addiction, Abuse and Misuse

DOLOPHINE contains methadone, a Schedule II controlled substance. As an opioid, DOLOPHINE exposes users to the risks of addiction, abuse, and misuse [see Drug Abuse and Dependence] . As long-acting opioids such as DOLOPHINE have pharmacological effects over an extended period of time, there is a greater risk for overdose and death.

Although the risk of addiction in any individual is unknown, it can occur in patients appropriately prescribed DOLOPHINE and in those who obtain the drug illicitly. Addiction can occur at recommended doses and if the drug is misused or abused.

Assess each patient’s risk for opioid addiction, abuse, or misuse prior to prescribing DOLOPHINE, and monitor all patients receiving DOLOPHINE for the development of these behaviors or conditions. Risks are increased in patients with a personal or family history of substance abuse (including drug or alcohol addiction or abuse) or mental illness (e.g., major depression). The potential for these risks should not, however, prevent the prescribing of DOLOPHINE for the proper management of pain in any given patient. Patients at increased risk may be prescribed long-acting opioids such as DOLOPHINE, but use in such patients necessitates intensive counseling about the risks and proper use of DOLOPHINE along with the intensive monitoring for signs of addiction, abuse, and misuse.

Abuse or misuse of DOLOPHINE by crushing, chewing, snorting, or injecting the dissolved product will result in the uncontrolled delivery of the methadone and can result in overdose and death [see Overdosage] .

Opioid agonists such as DOLOPHINE are sought by drug abusers and people with addiction disorders and are subject to criminal diversion. Consider these risks when prescribing or dispensing DOLOPHINE. Strategies to reduce these risks include prescribing the drug in the smallest appropriate quantity and advising the patient on the proper disposal of unused drug [see Patient Counseling Information] . Contact local state professional licensing board or state controlled substances authority for information on how to prevent and detect abuse or diversion of this product.

Life Threatening Respiratory Depression

Serious, life-threatening, or fatal respiratory depression has been reported with the use of long-acting opioids, even when used as recommended. Respiratory depression from opioid use, if not immediately recognized and treated, may lead to respiratory arrest and death. Management of respiratory depression may include close observation, supportive measures, and use of opioid antagonists, depending on the patient’s clinical status [see Overdosage] . Carbon dioxide (CO2) retention from opioid-induced respiratory depression can exacerbate the sedating effects of opioids.

While serious, life-threatening, or fatal respiratory depression can occur at any time during the use of DOLOPHINE, the risk is greatest during the initiation of therapy or following a dose increase. The peak respiratory depressant effect of methadone occurs later, and persists longer than the peak analgesic effect, especially during the initial dosing period. Closely monitor patients for respiratory depression when initiating therapy with DOLOPHINE and following dose increases.

To reduce the risk of respiratory depression, proper dosing and titration of DOLOPHINE are essential [see Dosage and Administration (2.2, 2.3)] . Overestimating the DOLOPHINE dose when converting patients from another opioid product can result in fatal overdose with the first dose.

Accidental ingestion of even one dose of DOLOPHINE, especially by children, can result in respiratory depression and death due to overdose of methadone.

Life-Threatening QT Prolongation

Cases of QT interval prolongation and serious arrhythmia (torsades de pointes) have been observed during treatment with methadone. These cases appear to be more commonly associated with, but not limited to, higher dose treatment (> 200 mg/day). Most cases involve patients being treated for pain with large, multiple daily doses of methadone, although cases have been reported in patients receiving doses commonly used for maintenance treatment of opioid addiction. In most patients on the lower doses typically used for maintenance, concomitant medications and/or clinical conditions such as hypokalemia were noted as contributing factors. However, the evidence strongly suggests that methadone possesses the potential for adverse cardiac conduction effects in some patients. The effects of methadone on the QT interval have been confirmed in in vivo laboratory studies, and methadone has been shown to inhibit cardiac potassium channels in in vitro studies.

Closely monitor patients with risk factors for development of prolonged QT interval (e.g., cardiac hypertrophy, concomitant diuretic use, hypokalemia, hypomagnesemia), a history of cardiac conduction abnormalities, and those taking medications affecting cardiac conduction. QT prolongation has also been reported in patients with no prior cardiac history who have received high doses of methadone.

Evaluate patients developing QT prolongation while on methadone treatment for the presence of modifiable risk factors, such as concomitant medications with cardiac effects, drugs that might cause electrolyte abnormalities, and drugs that might act as inhibitors of methadone metabolism.

Only initiate DOLOPHINE therapy for pain in patients for whom the anticipated benefit outweighs the risk of QT prolongation and development of dysrhythmias that have been reported with high doses of methadone.

The use of methadone in patients already known to have a prolonged QT interval has not been systematically studied.

Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome

Prolonged use of DOLOPHINE during pregnancy can result in withdrawal signs in the neonate. Neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome, unlike opioid withdrawal syndrome in adults, may be life-threatening if not recognized and treated, and requires management according to protocols developed by neonatology experts. If opioid use is required for a prolonged period in a pregnant woman, advise the patient of the risk of neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome and ensure that appropriate treatment will be available.

Neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome presents as irritability, hyperactivity and abnormal sleep pattern, high pitched cry, tremor, vomiting, diarrhea and failure to gain weight. The onset, duration, and severity of neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome vary based on the specific opioid used, duration of use, timing and amount of last maternal use, and rate of elimination of the drug by the newborn [see Use in Special Populations] .

Interactions with Central Nervous System Depressants

Hypotension, profound sedation, coma, respiratory depression, and death may result if DOLOPHINE is used concomitantly with alcohol or other central nervous system (CNS) depressants (e.g., sedatives, anxiolytics, hypnotics, neuroleptics, other opioids).

When considering the use of DOLOPHINE in a patient taking a CNS depressant, assess the duration of use of the CNS depressant and the patient’s response, including the degree of tolerance that has developed to CNS depression. Additionally, evaluate the patient’s use of alcohol or illicit drugs that cause CNS depression. If the decision to begin DOLOPHINE is made, start with DOLOPHINE 2.5 mg every 12 hours, monitor patients for signs of sedation and respiratory depression, and consider using a lower dose of the concomitant CNS depressant [see Drug Interactions] .

Use in Elderly, Cachectic, and Debilitated Patients

Life-threatening respiratory depression is more likely to occur in elderly, cachectic, or debilitated patients as they may have altered pharmacokinetics or altered clearance compared to younger, healthier patients. Monitor such patients closely, particularly when initiating and titrating DOLOPHINE and when DOLOPHINE is given concomitantly with other drugs that depress respiration [see Warnings and Precautions] .

Use in Patients with Chronic Pulmonary Disease

Monitor patients with significant chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or cor pulmonale, and patients having a substantially decreased respiratory reserve, hypoxia, hypercapnia, or pre-existing respiratory depression for respiratory depression, particularly when initiating therapy and titrating with DOLOPHINE, as in these patients, even usual therapeutic doses of DOLOPHINE may decrease respiratory drive to the point of apnea [see Warnings and Precautions] . Consider the use of alternative non-opioid analgesics in these patients if possible.

Hypotensive Effect

  •  DOLOPHINE may cause severe hypotension including orthostatic hypotension and syncope in ambulatory patients. There is an increased risk in patients whose ability to maintain blood pressure has already been compromised by a reduced blood volume or concurrent administration of certain CNS depressant drugs (e.g. phenothiazines or general anesthetics) [see Drug Interactions] . Monitor these patients for signs of hypotension after initiating or titrating the dose of DOLOPHINE.

Use in Patients with Head Injury or Increased Intracranial Pressure

Monitor patients taking DOLOPHINE who may be susceptible to the intracranial effects of CO2 retention (e.g., those with evidence of increased intracranial pressure or brain tumors) for signs of sedation and respiratory depression, particularly when initiating therapy with DOLOPHINE. DOLOPHINE may reduce respiratory drive, and the resultant CO2 retention can further increase intracranial pressure. Opioids may also obscure the clinical course in a patient with a head injury.

Avoid the use of DOLOPHINE in patients with impaired consciousness or coma.

Use in Patients with Gastrointestinal Conditions

DOLOPHINE is contraindicated in patients with paralytic ileus. Avoid the use of DOLOPHINE in patients with other gastrointestinal obstruction.

The methadone in DOLOPHINE may cause spasm of the sphincter of Oddi. Monitor patients with biliary tract disease, including acute pancreatitis, for worsening symptoms. Opioids may cause increases in the serum amylase.

Use in Patients with Convulsive or Seizure Disorders

The methadone in DOLOPHINE may aggravate convulsions in patients with convulsive disorders, and may induce or aggravate seizures in some clinical settings. Monitor patients with a history of seizure disorders for worsened seizure control during DOLOPHINE therapy.

Avoidance of Withdrawal

Avoid the use of mixed agonist/antagonist (i.e., pentazocine, nalbuphine, and butorphanol) and partial agonist (buprenorphine) analgesics in patients who have received or are receiving a course of therapy with a full opioid agonist analgesic, including DOLOPHINE. In these patients, mixed agonists/antagonist and partial agonist analgesics may reduce the analgesic effect and/or may precipitate withdrawal symptoms [see Drug Interactions] .

When discontinuing DOLOPHINE, gradually taper the dose [see Dosage and Administration] . Do not abruptly discontinue DOLOPHINE.

Driving and Operating Machinery

DOLOPHINE may impair the mental or physical abilities needed to perform potentially hazardous activities such as driving a car or operating machinery. Warn patients not to drive or operate dangerous machinery unless they are tolerant to the effects of DOLOPHINE and know how they will react to the medication.



Clinical Considerations: Fetal/neonatal adverse reactions: Prolonged use of opioid analgesics during pregnancy for medical or nonmedical purposes can result in physical dependence in the neonate and neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome shortly after birth. Observe newborns for symptoms of neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome, such as poor feeding, diarrhea, irritability, tremor, rigidity, and seizures, and manage accordingly [see Warnings and Precautions] .

Teratogenic Effects - Pregnancy Category C: There are no adequate and well controlled studies in pregnant women. DOLOPHINE should be used during pregnancy only if the potential benefit justifies the potential risk to the fetus.

Methadone has been shown to be teratogenic in the hamster at doses 2 times the human daily oral dose (120 mg/day on a mg/m2 basis) and in mice at doses equivalent to the human daily oral dose (120 mg/day on a mg/m2 basis). Increased neonatal mortality and significant differences in behavioral tests have been reported in the offspring of male rodents that were treated with methadone prior to mating when compared to control animals. Methadone has been detected in human amniotic fluid and cord plasma at concentrations proportional to maternal plasma and in newborn urine at lower concentrations than corresponding maternal urine.

Dosage Adjustment during Pregnancy: The disposition of oral methadone has been studied in approximately 30 pregnant patients in 2nd and 3rd trimesters. Total body clearance of methadone was increased in pregnant patients compared to the same patients postpartum or to non-pregnant opioid-dependent women. The terminal half-life of methadone is decreased during 2nd and 3rd trimesters. The decrease in plasma half-life and increased clearance of methadone resulting in lower methadone trough levels during pregnancy can lead to withdrawal symptoms in some pregnant patients. The dosage may need to be increased or the dosing interval decreased in pregnant patients receiving methadone to achieve therapeutic effect [see Dosage and Administration] .

Effects on the Neonate: Babies born to mothers who have been taking opioids regularly prior to delivery may be physically dependent. Onset of withdrawal symptoms in infants is usually in the first days after birth. Monitor newborn for withdrawal signs and symptoms including: poor feeding, irritability, excessive crying, tremors, rigidity, hyper-active reflexes, increased respiratory rate, diarrhea, sneezing, yawning, vomiting, fever, and seizures. The intensity of the neonatal withdrawal syndrome does not always correlate with the maternal dose or the duration of maternal exposure. The duration of the withdrawal signs may vary from a few days to weeks or even months. There is no consensus on the appropriate management of infant withdrawal [see Warnings and Precautions] .

Human Data: Reported studies have generally compared the benefit of methadone to the risk of untreated addiction to illicit drugs; the relevance of these findings to pain patients prescribed methadone during pregnancy is unclear. Pregnant women involved in methadone maintenance programs have been reported to have significantly improved prenatal care leading to significantly reduced incidence of obstetric and fetal complications and neonatal morbidity and mortality when compared to women using illicit drugs. Several factors, including maternal use of illicit drugs, nutrition, infection and psychosocial circumstances, complicate the interpretation of investigations of the children of women who take methadone during pregnancy. Information is limited regarding dose and duration of methadone use during pregnancy, and most maternal exposure appears to occur after the first trimester of pregnancy.

A review of published data on experiences with methadone use during pregnancy by the Teratogen Information System (TERIS) concluded that maternal use of methadone during pregnancy as part of a supervised, therapeutic regimen is unlikely to pose a substantial teratogenic risk (quantity and quality of data assessed as “limited to fair”). However, the data are insufficient to state that there is no risk (TERIS, last reviewed October, 2002). A retrospective case series of 101 pregnant, opioid-dependent women who underwent inpatient opioid detoxification with methadone did not demonstrate any increased risk of miscarriage in the 2nd trimester or premature delivery in the 3rd trimester. Recent studies suggest an increased risk of premature delivery in opioid-dependent women exposed to methadone during pregnancy, although the presence of confounding factors makes it difficult to determine a causal relationship. Several studies have suggested that infants born to narcotic-addicted women treated with methadone during all or part of pregnancy have been found to have decreased fetal growth with reduced birth weight, length, and/or head circumference compared to controls. This growth deficit does not appear to persist into later childhood. Children prenatally exposed to methadone have been reported to demonstrate mild but persistent deficits in performance on psychometric and behavioral tests. In addition, several studies suggest that children born to opioid-dependent women exposed to methadone during pregnancy may have an increased risk of visual development anomalies; however, a causal relationship has not been assigned.

There are conflicting reports on whether Sudden Infant Death Syndrome occurs with an increased incidence in infants born to women treated with methadone during pregnancy. Abnormal fetal non-stress tests have been reported to occur more frequently when the test is performed 1 to 2 hours after a maintenance dose of methadone in late pregnancy compared to controls.

Animal Data: Methadone did not produce teratogenic effects in rat or rabbit models. Methadone produced teratogenic effects following large doses, in the guinea pig, hamster and mouse. One published study in pregnant hamsters indicated that a single subcutaneous dose of methadone ranging from 31 to 185 mg/kg (the 31 mg/kg dose is approximately 2 times a human daily oral dose of 120 mg/day on a mg/m2 basis) on day 8 of gestation resulted in a decrease in the number of fetuses per litter and an increase in the percentage of fetuses exhibiting congenital malformations described as exencephaly, cranioschisis, and “various other lesions.” The majority of the doses tested also resulted in maternal death. In another study, a single subcutaneous dose of 22 to 24 mg/kg methadone (estimated exposure was approximately equivalent to a human daily oral dose of 120 mg/day on a mg/m2 basis) administered on day 9 of gestation in mice also produced exencephaly in 11% of the embryos. However, no effects were reported in rats and rabbits at oral doses up to 40 mg/kg (estimated exposure was approximately 3 and 6 times, respectively, a human daily oral dose of 120 mg/day on a mg/m2 basis) administered during days 6 to 15 and 6 to 18, respectively.

Published animal data have reported increased neonatal mortality in the offspring of male rodents that were treated with methadone prior to mating. In these studies, the female rodents were not treated with methadone, indicating paternally- mediated developmental toxicity. Specifically, methadone administered to the male rat prior to mating with methadone- naïve females resulted in decreased weight gain in progeny after weaning. The male progeny demonstrated reduced thymus weights, whereas the female progeny demonstrated increased adrenal weights. Behavioral testing of these male and female progeny revealed significant differences in behavioral tests compared to control animals, suggesting that paternal methadone exposure can produce physiological and behavioral changes in progeny in this model. Other animal studies have reported that perinatal exposure to opioids including methadone alters neuronal development and behavior in the offspring. Perinatal methadone exposure in rats has been linked to alterations in learning ability, motor activity, thermal regulation, nociceptive responses and sensitivity to drugs.

Additional animal data demonstrates evidence for neurochemical changes in the brains of methadone-treated offspring, including changes to the cholinergic, dopaminergic, noradrenergic and serotonergic systems. Studies demonstrated that methadone treatment of male rats for 21 to 32 days prior to mating with methadone-naïve females did not produce any adverse effects, suggesting that prolonged methadone treatment of the male rat resulted in tolerance to the developmental toxicities noted in the progeny. Mechanistic studies in this rat model suggest that the developmental effects of “paternal” methadone on the progeny appear to be due to decreased testosterone production. These animal data mirror the reported clinical findings of decreased testosterone levels in human males on methadone maintenance therapy for opioid addiction and in males receiving chronic intraspinal opioids.

Additional data have been published indicating that methadone treatment of male rats (once a day for three consecutive days) increased embryolethality and neonatal mortality. Examination of uterine contents of methadone-naïve female mice bred to methadone-treated mice indicated that methadone treatment produced an increase in the rate of preimplantation deaths in all post-meiotic states.

Labor and Delivery

Opioids cross the placenta and may produce respiratory depression in neonates. DOLOPHINE is not for use in women during and immediately prior to labor, when shorter acting analgesics or other analgesic techniques are more appropriate. Opioid analgesics can prolong labor through actions that temporarily reduce the strength, duration, and frequency of uterine contractions. However this effect is not consistent and may be offset by an increased rate of cervical dilatation, which tends to shorten labor.

Nursing Mothers

Methadone is secreted into human milk. At maternal oral doses of 10 to 80 mg/day, methadone concentrations from 50 to 570 mcg/L in milk have been reported, which, in the majority of samples, were lower than maternal serum drug concentrations at steady state. Peak methadone levels in milk occur approximately 4 to 5 hours after an oral dose. Based on an average milk consumption of 150 mL/kg/day, an infant would consume approximately 17.4 mcg/kg/day which is approximately 2 to 3% of the oral maternal dose. Methadone has been detected in very low plasma concentrations in some infants whose mothers were taking methadone. Cases of sedation and respiratory depression in infants exposed to methadone through breast milk have been reported. Caution should be exercised when methadone is administered to a nursing woman.

Advise women who are being treated with methadone and who are breastfeeding or express a desire to breastfeed of the presence of methadone in human milk. Instruct breastfeeding mothers how to identify respiratory depression and sedation in their babies and when it may be necessary to contact their healthcare provider or seek immediate medical care. Breastfed infants of mothers using methadone should be weaned gradually to prevent development of withdrawal symptoms in the infant.

Pediatric Use

The safety, effectiveness, and pharmacokinetics of methadone in pediatric patients below the age of 18 years have not been established.

Geriatric Use

Clinical studies of methadone did not include sufficient numbers of subjects aged 65 and over to determine whether they respond differently compared to younger subjects. Other reported clinical experience has not identified differences in responses between elderly and younger patients. In general, start elderly patients at the low end of the dosing range, taking into account the greater frequency of decreased hepatic, renal, or cardiac function and of concomitant disease or other drug therapy in geriatric patients. Closely monitor elderly patients for signs of respiratory and central nervous system depression.

Renal Impairment

Methadone pharmacokinetics have not been extensively evaluated in patients with renal insufficiency. Since unmetabolized methadone and its metabolites are excreted in urine to a variable degree, start these patients on lower doses and with longer dosing intervals and titrate slowly while carefully monitoring for signs of respiratory and central nervous system depression.

Hepatic Impairment

Methadone has not been extensively evaluated in patients with hepatic insufficiency. Methadone is metabolized by hepatic pathways; therefore, patients with liver impairment may be at risk of increased systemic exposure to methadone after multiple dosing. Start these patients on lower doses and titrate slowly while carefully monitoring for signs of respiratory and central nervous system depression.

Page last updated: 2014-04-16

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