Methadone is a strong opioid analgesic that has been used successfully in cancer pain management. The oral route of administration is generally preferred for opioid analgesics. However that route sometimes cannot be used. Experience with continuous subcutaneous methadone infusions has produced local intolerance. The aim of this study was to analyze the use of intermittent subcutaneous methadone injections.
Ten patients whose pain was well-controlled with oral methadone (average dose 30 mg, range 10 to 120 mg) participated in the study. A subcutaneous small vein needle (butterfly) was used exclusively for administration of methadone. Over a period of seven days the local discomfort of each injection was evaluated by means of a Verbal Numerical Rating Scale (NRS) and the site of infusion was observed. When any degree of erythema or inflammation was seen, the infusion site was changed. The initial subcutaneous dose was the same as the previously administered oral dose. A daily record was kept of the dose used, level of pain, and toxicity symptoms.
This close vigilance was aimed at avoiding dosage errors due to variations among individuals in acceptance to previous oral medication. Changes in dosage were allowed according to standard medical criteria. Two patients were withdrawn from the study due to non-painful irritation at the infusion point. Another eight patients tolerated repeated administration of subcutaneous methadone over seven days. Any local irritation from subcutaneous methadone that occurred was managed satisfactorily by changing the infusion site and limiting doses to 30 mg. In seven of 182 repeat administration, injection site changes were necessitated by local irritation. The NRS for local discomfort was 2/10. The two patients who were intolerant of the subcutaneous injections were receiving injected doses which were significantly higher than the others (42 mg as compared to 25 mg).
Dose adjustments needed when changing from the oral to the subcutaneous methadone route were minimal. Subcutaneous intermittent administration of methadone appears to be a useful alternative to oral administration in selected clinical situations when oral administration is not feasible.
CITATION J Pain Palliat Care Pharmacother. 2005;19(2):7-12
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