Control of breathing during methadone addiction

Am J Med. 1977 Mar;62(3):347-54. doi: 10.1016/0002-9343(77)90831-2.


Chemical control of breathing was studied before and after the administration of the daily dose of methadone in 14 former heroin addicts who were enrolled in a methadone maintenance program and taking 60 to 100 mg/day. Two major groups were identified: group 1 in which subjects (n=6) had taken the drug for less than two months, and group 2 in which the subjects (n=6) had taken the drug from eight to 43 months. Prior to the daily dose of methadone, the levels of arterial carbon dioxide tension were significantly higher and ventilatory response to hypoxia significantly lower in group 1 than in group 2. Ventilatory responses to carbon dioxide (CO2) were also lower in group 1, but the difference was not statistically significant. Following the daily dose of methadone, the subjects in group 1 manifested significant reductions of ventilation and arterial oxygen tension, significant increases in arterial carbon dioxide tension and significant depressions of ventilatory responses to both CO2 and hypoxia in comparison to values before the administration of methadone. In contrast, subjects in group 2 manifested only a significant decrease in ventilatory responsiveness to hypoxia with no change in ventilation, arterial blood gas tensions or ventilatory responsiveness to CO2 following the daily dose. Two intermediate subjects (five and seven months) behaved as long-term subjects with regard to arterial carbon dioxide tension and CO2 responses but as short-term subjects with regard to responsiveness to hypoxia. Thus, during the first two months of methadone maintence, there is continual alveolar hypoventilation due to depression o both central (CO2) and peripheral (hypoxia) chemoreception. After five months, alveolar hypoventilation is abolished as the CO2-sensitive chemoreflex acquires full tolerance to methadone at the maintenance dose level. In contrast, tolerance of the hypoxia-sensitive chemoreflex is developed more slowly and is never complete.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blood Gas Analysis
  • Humans
  • Hypercapnia / physiopathology
  • Hypoxia / physiopathology
  • Lung / physiopathology
  • Methadone / administration & dosage
  • Methadone / adverse effects*
  • Respiration / drug effects*
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Ventilation-Perfusion Ratio


  • Methadone