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Archives of Internal Medicine

Year: 2010  |  Volume: 170  |  Issue: 6  |  Page No.: 529 - 536

Substitution of (R,S)-Methadone by (R)-Methadone: Impact on QTc Interval

N Ansermot, O Albayrak, J Schlapfer, S Crettol, M Croquette Krokar, M Bourquin, J. J Deglon, M Faouzi, N Scherbaum and C. B. Eap


Background  Methadone is administered as a chiral mixture of (R,S)-methadone. The opioid effect is mainly mediated by (R)-methadone, whereas (S)-methadone blocks the human ether-à-go-go–related gene (hERG) voltage-gated potassium channel more potently, which can cause drug-induced long QT syndrome, leading to potentially lethal ventricular tachyarrhythmias.

Methods  To investigate whether substitution of (R,S)-methadone by (R)-methadone could reduce the corrected QT (QTc) interval, (R,S)-methadone was replaced by (R)-methadone (half-dose) in 39 opioid-dependent patients receiving maintenance treatment for 14 days. (R)-methadone was then replaced by the initial dose of (R,S)-methadone for 14 days (n = 29). Trough (R)-methadone and (S)-methadone plasma levels and electrocardiogram measurements were taken.

Results  The Fridericia-corrected QT (QTcF) interval decreased when (R,S)-methadone was replaced by a half-dose of (R)-methadone; the median (interquartile range [IQR]) values were 423 (398-440) milliseconds (ms) and 412 (395-431) ms (P = .06) at days 0 and 14, respectively. Using a univariate mixed-effect linear model, the QTcF value decreased by a mean of –3.9 ms (95% confidence interval [CI], –7.7 to –0.2) per week (P = .04). The QTcF value increased when (R)-methadone was replaced by the initial dose of (R,S)-methadone for 14 days; median (IQR) values were 424 (398-436) ms and 424 (412-443) ms (P = .01) at days 14 and 28, respectively. The univariate model showed that the QTcF value increased by a mean of 4.7 ms (95% CI, 1.3-8.1) per week (P = .006).

Conclusions  Substitution of (R,S)-methadone by (R)-methadone reduces the QTc interval value. A safer cardiac profile of (R)-methadone is in agreement with previous in vitro and pharmacogenetic studies. If the present results are confirmed by larger studies, (R)-methadone should be prescribed instead of (R,S)-methadone to reduce the risk of cardiac toxic effects and sudden death.

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