DOSAGE AND ADMINISTRATION
Methadone differs from many other opioid agonists in several important ways. Methadone's pharmacokinetic properties, coupled with high interpatient variability in its absorption, metabolism, and relative analgesic potency, necessitate a cautious and highly individualized approach to prescribing. Particular vigilance is necessary during treatment initiation, during conversion from one opioid to another, and during dose titration.
While methadone's duration of analgesic action (typically 4 to 8 hours) in the setting of single-dose studies approximates that of morphine, methadone's plasma elimination half-life is substantially longer than that of morphine (typically 8 to 59 hours vs. 1 to 5 hours). Methadone's peak respiratory depressant effects typically occur later, and persist longer than its peak analgesic effects. Also, with repeated dosing, methadone may be retained in the liver and then slowly released, prolonging the duration of action despite low plasma concentrations. For these reasons, steady-state plasma concentrations, and full analgesic effects, are usually not attained until 3 to 5 days of dosing. Additionally, incomplete cross-tolerance between mu-opioid agonists makes determination of dosing during opioid conversion complex.
The complexities associated with methadone dosing can contribute to cases of iatrogenic overdose, particularly during treatment initiation and dose titration. A high degree of "opioid tolerance" does not eliminate the possibility of methadone overdose, iatrogenic or otherwise. Deaths have been reported during conversion to methadone from chronic, high-dose treatment with other opioid agonists and during initiation of methadone treatment of addiction in subjects previously abusing high doses of other agonists.
Treatment of Pain
Optimal methadone initiation and dose titration strategies for the treatment of pain have not been determined. Published equianalgesic conversion ratios between methadone and other opioids are imprecise, providing at best, only population averages that cannot be applied consistently to all patients. It should be noted that many commonly cited equianalgesia tables only present relative analgesic potencies of single opioid doses in non-tolerant patients, thus greatly underestimating methadone's analgesic potency, and its potential for adverse effects in repeated-dose settings. Regardless of the dose determination strategy employed, methadone is most safely initiated and titrated using small initial doses and gradual dose adjustments.
As with all opioid drugs, it is necessary to adjust the dosing regimen for each patient individually, taking into account the patient's prior analgesic treatment experience. The following dosing recommendations should only be considered as suggested approaches to what is actually a series of clinical decisions over time in the management of the pain of each individual patient. Prescribers should always follow appropriate pain management principles of careful assessment and ongoing monitoring.
In the selection of an initial dose of Methadose, attention should be given to the following:
- The total daily dose, potency and specific characteristics of the opioid the patient had been taking previously, if any;
- The relative potency estimate used to calculate an equianalgesic starting methadone dose, in particular, whether it is intended for use in acute or chronic methadone dosing;
- The patient's degree of opioid tolerance;
- The age, general condition and medical status of the patient;
- Concurrent medications, particularly other CNS and respiratory depressants;
- The type, severity and expected duration of the patient's pain;
- The acceptable balance between pain control and adverse side effects.
Initiation of Therapy in Opioid Non-Tolerant Patients
When oral methadone is used as the first analgesic in patients who are not already being treated with, and tolerant to, opioids, the usual oral methadone starting dose is 2.5 mg to 10 mg every 8 to 12 hours, slowly titrated to effect. More frequent administration may be required during methadone initiation in order to maintain adequate analgesia, and extreme caution is necessary to avoid overdosage, taking into account methadone's long elimination half-life.
Conversion from Parenteral Methadone to Oral Methadone
Conversion from parenteral methadone to oral methadone should initially use a 1:2 dose ratio (e.g., 5 mg parenteral methadone to 10 mg oral methadone).
Switching Patients to Methadone from other Chronic Opioids
Switching a patient from another chronically administered opioid to methadone requires caution due to the uncertainty of dose conversion ratios and incomplete cross-tolerance. Deaths have occurred in opioid tolerant patients during conversion to methadone.
Conversion ratios in many commonly used equianalgesic dosing tables do not apply in the setting of repeated methadone dosing. Although with single-dose administration the onset and duration of analgesic action, as well as the analgesic potency of methadone and morphine, are similar methadone's potency increases over time with repeated dosing. Furthermore, the conversion ratio between methadone and other opiates varies dramatically depending on baseline opiate (morphine equivalent) use as shown in the table below.
The dose conversion scheme below is derived from various consensus guidelines for converting chronic pain patients to methadone from morphine. Clinicians should consult published conversion guidelines to determine the equivalent morphine dose for patients converting from other opioids.
Table 1. Oral Morphine to Oral Methadone Conversion for Chronic Administration
|Total Daily Baseline Oral |
|Estimated Daily Oral |
Methadone Requirement as
Percent of Total Daily
|< 100 mg||20% to 30%|
|100 to 300 mg||10% to 20%|
|300 to 600 mg||8% to 12%|
|600 mg to 1000 mg||5% to 10%|
|> 1000 mg||<5%|
The total daily methadone dose derived from the table above may then be divided to reflect the intended dosing schedule (i.e., for administration every 8 hours, divide total daily methadone dose by 3).
Note – Equianalgesic methadone dosing varies not only between patients, but also within the same patient, depending on baseline morphine (or other opioid) dose. Table 1 has been included in order to illustrate this concept and to provide a safe starting point for opioid conversion. Methadone dosing should not be based solely on these tables. Methadone conversion and dose titration methods should always be individualized to account for the patient's prior opioid exposure, general medical condition, concomitant medication, and anticipated breakthrough medication use. The endpoint of titration is achievement of adequate pain relief, balanced against tolerability of opioid side effects. If a patient develops intolerable opioid related side effects, the methadone dose, or dosing interval, may need to be adjusted.
Dosage Adjustment During Pregnancy
Methadone clearance may be increased during pregnancy. Several small studies have demonstrated significantly lower trough methadone plasma concentrations and shorter methadone half-lives in women during their pregnancy compared to after their delivery. During pregnancy a woman's methadone dose may need to be increased, or their dosing interval decreased. Methadone should be used in pregnancy only if the potential benefit justifies the potential risk to the fetus.
Detoxification and Maintenance Treatment of Opiate Dependence
|For detoxification and maintenance of opiate dependence methadone should be administered in accordance with the treatment standards cited in 42 CFR Section 8.12, including limitations on unsupervised administration.|
The initial methadone dose should be administered, under supervision, when there are no signs of sedation or intoxication, and the patient shows symptoms of withdrawal. Initially, a single dose of 20 to 30 mg of methadone will often be sufficient to suppress withdrawal symptoms. The initial dose should not exceed 30 mg. If same-day dosing adjustments are to be made, the patient should be asked to wait 2 to 4 hours for further evaluation, when peak levels have been reached. An additional 5 to 10 mg of methadone may be provided if withdrawal symptoms have not been suppressed or if symptoms reappear. The total daily dose of methadone on the first day of treatment should not ordinarily exceed 40 mg. Dose adjustments should be made over the first week of treatment based on control of withdrawal symptoms at the time of expected peak activity (e.g., 2 to 4 hours after dosing). Dose adjustment should be cautious; deaths have occurred in early treatment due to the cumulative effects of the first several days' dosing. Patients should be reminded that the dose will “hold” for a longer period of time as tissue stores of methadone accumulate.
Initial doses should be lower for patients whose tolerance is expected to be low at treatment entry. Loss of tolerance should be considered in any patient who has not taken opioids for more than 5 days. Initial doses should not be determined by previous treatment episodes or dollars spent per day on illicit drug use.
For Short-Term Detoxification
For patients preferring a brief course of stabilization followed by a period of medically supervised withdrawal, it is generally recommended that the patient be titrated to a total daily dose of about 40 mg in divided doses to achieve an adequate stabilizing level. Stabilization can be continued for 2 to 3 days, after which the dose of methadone should be gradually decreased. The rate at which methadone is decreased should be determined separately for each patient. The dose of methadone can be decreased on a daily basis or at 2-day intervals, but the amount of intake should remain sufficient to keep withdrawal symptoms at a tolerable level. In hospitalized patients, a daily reduction of 20% of the total daily dose may be tolerated. In ambulatory patients, a somewhat slower schedule may be needed.
For Maintenance Treatment
Patients in maintenance treatment should be titrated to a dose at which opioid symptoms are prevented for 24 hours, drug hunger or craving is reduced, the euphoric effects of self- administered opioids are blocked or attenuated, and the patient is tolerant to the sedative effects of methadone. Most commonly, clinical stability is achieved at doses between 80 to 120 mg/day.
For Medically Supervised Withdrawal After a Period of Maintenance Treatment
There is considerable variability in the appropriate rate of methadone taper in patients choosing medically supervised withdrawal from methadone treatment. It is generally suggested that dose reductions should be less than 10% of the established tolerance or maintenance dose, and that 10 to 14-day intervals should elapse between dose reductions. Patients should be apprised of the high risk of relapse to illicit drug use associated with discontinuation of methadone maintenance treatment.