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Last updated : April 8, 2019
Methadone is a prescription drug, and is part of a group of drugs known as opioids. Opioids interact with opioid receptors in the brain and elicit a range of responses within the body; from feelings of pain relief, to relaxation, pleasure and contentment.1
Methadone is taken as a replacement for heroin and other opioids as part of treatment for dependence on these drugs. Replacing a drug of dependence with a prescribed drug in this way is known as pharmacotherapy. As well as improving wellbeing by preventing physical withdrawal, pharmacotherapy helps to stabilise the lives of people who are dependent on heroin and other opioids, and to reduce the harms related to drug use.2
Methadone is also used to relieve pain following heart attacks, trauma and surgery.
Done or ‘the done’.
The Victorian pharmacotherapy program uses the syrup form of methadone. There are 2 brands of this liquid: Methadone Syrup® and Biodone Forte®.3 Generally, there are 2 types of methadone programs:
For pain relief methadone is administered through an injection or tablets.
Methadone treatment is more likely to be successful if it is part of a comprehensive treatment program, which addresses the body, mind and environment in which heroin has been used.
For example, treatment may include a combination of methadone, counselling, alternative therapies and the development of a positive support network of peers, friends and a support group.5
Methadone maintenance may not work for everyone, so it is important to work with a doctor or drug counsellor to find the best approach.
There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk – even medications can produce unwanted side effects. It’s important to be careful when taking any type of drug.
Methadone affects everyone differently, based on:
The effects of methadone last much longer than the effects of heroin. A single dose lasts for about 24 hours, whereas a dose of heroin may only last for a couple of hours.6
People with pre-existing impaired liver function (due to conditions such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C or prolonged alcohol use) may require careful monitoring while receiving methadone treatment.7
The most common side effects of methadone are:
Some people on methadone programs will experience unwanted symptoms during their treatment due to their dosage not being right for them. This occurs particularly at the beginning of treatment.7
If the dose is too low, the following symptoms may be experienced:
If the dose is too high, the following symptoms may be experienced. If you experience any of the following effects, call an ambulance straight away by dialling triple zero (000). Ambulance officers don’t need to involve the police.
Methadone in its pure form will not cause damage to the major organs of the body.
Prolonged use of methadone will not cause any physical damage.
Methadone withdrawal develops more slowly and is less intense than withdrawal from heroin. Withdrawal symptoms are similar to those listed under ‘Dose-related effects’ under ‘too low’ dose. Most of these effects will begin within 1 to 3 days after the last dose and will peak around the 6th day, but can last longer.1