The pharmacokinetics of methadone in HIV-positive patients receiving the non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor efavirenz


Professor D. J. Back, Department of Pharmacology & Therapeutics, University of Liverpool, Ashton Street, Liverpool L69 3GE. Tel.: 0151 7945547; Fax: 0151 794; E-mail:


Aims  Methadone is predominantly metabolized by cytochrome P450 3A4 and the non nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI) efavirenz is a recognized inducer of this enzyme. We evaluated the pharmacokinetics of methadone in the presence and absence of efavirenz when administered to HIV infected patients with a history of injection drug use (IDU).

Methods  Eleven patients on stable methadone maintenance therapy, due to commence antiretroviral therapy (ART), participated in this study. Steady state methadone kinetic profiles were obtained on two occasions 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 24 h post dosing. Following centrifugation, separated plasma was heated at 58 °C for 30 min to inactivate HIV and stored at −80 °C until methadone analysis by high performance liquid chromatography.

Results  When combined with efavirenz there was a marked decrease in the maximum plasma concentration (Cmax) of methadone from 689 (range 212–1568) to 358 (range 205–706) ng ml−1, P = 0.007 : 95% confidence interval (CI) 112–549. The mean area under the methadone concentration curve 0–24 h (AUC(0,24 h)) was also significantly reduced from 12341 (range 3682–34147) to 5309 (range 2430–10349) ng ml−1 h in the presence of efavirenz, P = 0.012 : 95% CI 1921–12143. Nine patients described symptoms of methadone withdrawal and received a dose increase. Although methadone AUC(0,24 h) was reduced by over 50% following efavirenz the mean increase in methadone dose required was 22% (range 15–30 mg).

Conclusion  The inclusion of the NNRTI efavirenz in once daily ART for HIV patients with a history of IDU receiving methadone maintenance results in a significant reduction in methadone plasma concentrations mediated by enzyme induction. It is important to distinguish efavirenz neurological effects which were observed between days 1–5 of therapy from symptoms of methadone withdrawal which occurred from day 8 onwards. The dose of methadone was adjusted by increments of 10 mg to counteract the efavirenz inducing effect.