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Methadone in palliative care


Methadone builds up in your body over time, often taking a week or longer to reach its full effect. During that time, you may still feel some pain. Unless your doctor tells you to, do not take extra methadone or other pain relievers. This could be harmful or fatal.

Unless told to do so by your doctor, do not combine methadone with other drugs, alcohol or over-the-counter products. This could be harmful or fatal.

Tell your family members or caregivers to watch out for the following warning signs that you may be reacting badly to methadone:

If they see any of these warning signs, they should immediately seek help. They should call your doctor, phone the Nurse Maude hospice on (03) 375‑4274 or call 111 for emergency help.

You shouldn't drive or do other activities that need balance or focused concentration until you know what effect methadone has on you. This typically takes a week or longer.

What methadone does

Methadone helps to control pain.

How you take methadone

For methadone tablets, follow the instructions and take them with a glass of water.

For methadone solution, measure it and take it according to the instructions.

You must only take the amount of methadone you've been prescribed and at the times on your instructions.

If you miss a dose

If you miss a dose, take it as soon as possible. But if it's almost time for your next dose, skip the missed dose and continue as usual from your next dose. Do not take two doses at once.

To help avoid missing doses or taking extra ones, use a notebook to keep track of when you take each dose of methadone.

If you're forgetful, have someone else give you each dose of methadone and keep a record of it.

Possible side effects

The box above lists possible serious side effects. Other side effects, if they happen, usually become milder or go away with time. These include a light-headed feeling, nausea, stomach upset and mild drowsiness. Side effects that may last longer include constipation, itching, dry mouth, flushing and increased sweating. Contact your doctor if any of these continue or get worse.

Uncommon side effects include confusion and mood changes such as depression or agitation. Shaking, blurred vision and difficulty urinating are also uncommon side effects. If you experience any of these, tell your doctor.

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Written by medical staff, Canterbury Integrated Palliative Care Services. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed November 2020.

Page reference: 119909

Review key: HIPAL-17434