Attitudes, Beliefs, and Practices of Pediatric Palliative Care Physicians Regarding the Use of Methadone in Children With Advanced Cancer

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2019 Feb;57(2):260-265. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2018.11.009. Epub 2018 Nov 15.


Context: Methadone is a long-acting opioid known for its unique pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic properties. Most research on methadone in children is limited to its effect on the prolongation of the corrected QT (QTc) interval.

Objectives: To better understand the attitudes, beliefs, and practices of pediatric palliative care physicians regarding the use of methadone in children with advanced cancer.

Methods: A survey was sent to the American Academy of Pediatrics Section of Hospice and Palliative Medicine LISTSERV. Information on demographics, dosing of methadone, and the use of electrocardiograms (ECGs) was collected.

Results: One-hundred and five respondents (91%) provide palliative care to children ≥ 50% of the time, and a majority (81, 77%) prescribe methadone. Most (62, 77%) physicians were board certified in Hospice and Palliative Medicine, and most (39, 63%) certified via the direct pathway ("grandfathering"). Most physicians (57, 70%) do not use loading doses of methadone. Board-certified physicians trended toward decreasing methadone dose more (40% ± 19%) than non-board-certified physicians (28%, ±20%) when changing from the oral to intravenous route (P = 0.07). Respondents defined a QTc interval as "prolonged" (mean ± SD) at 444 milliseconds (±68 milliseconds). The percentage of patients receiving a baseline ECG was 65% (±33%). The most common reason for not performing a baseline ECG was that the patient was on hospice (13, 36%).

Conclusions: There are consistent practices, attitudes, and beliefs of pediatric palliative care providers with regard to methadone. More education is needed on the accurate value of a prolonged QTc interval.

Keywords: Pediatric palliative care; methadone; pain management; pediatric oncology; pediatrics.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Intravenous
  • Administration, Oral
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Cancer Pain / drug therapy*
  • Child
  • Electrocardiography / drug effects
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Hospices
  • Humans
  • Long QT Syndrome / chemically induced
  • Methadone / adverse effects
  • Methadone / therapeutic use*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Palliative Care*
  • Physicians*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Methadone