Methadone belongs to a group of strong pain-killing drugs called opioids. It is used to treat heroin-dependent people.
Methadone belongs to a group of strong pain-killing drugs called opioids. They include codeine, morphine, and heroin.
Methadone comes in the form of a syrup and is used to treat heroin-dependent people. In Australia, methadone is only legal within a treatment program. It is available in all states and territories, except the Northern Territory. In some situations, takeaway doses are also available.
Generally, a person has to be over 18 years of age and can only go on a methadone treatment program after being assessed by a doctor who is an approved methadone prescriber. Usually people pick up their daily dose at a clinic or pharmacy.
There are a number of reasons why methadone is preferable to being dependent on heroin.
First, methadone is swallowed. This cuts out the risk of using shared or dirty injecting equipment and becoming infected with hepatitis B or C or HIV.
Second, methadone can be administered in a controlled way. This means that the drug is dispensed in a clinical environment so there is no risk of it being impure.
Third, the effects of methadone last up to 24 hours and this means a person only needs one dose a day to control withdrawal. These factors help stabilise a person's lifestyle. It reduces the stress and anxiety over where the next dose of heroin is coming from and encourages people to look after themselves and others better. A person on methadone is also more likely to hold down a job.
Methadone is also cheaper than heroin and the extra money can further improve the health and lifestyle of a person. Criminal activities to buy illegal drugs are also reduced.
The effects of methadone are similar to heroin. They can include relief from pain, feeling of wellbeing, nausea, and vomiting.
Methadone may also affect a person's ability to drive a car or operate heavy machinery.
People who use methadone for a long time may experience increased sweating and constipation. Both men and women may experience sexual problems and a woman's menstrual cycle may be disrupted. Most of these effects will disappear with dose adjustments and as the person's lifestyle improves.
Stopping methadone abruptly can lead to withdrawal symptoms. Usually they begin one to three days after the last dose. They can include:
These symptoms reach their peak on the sixth day but some may last for a few weeks.
Overdose can happen when more than the prescribed dose is taken, when methadone is injected or when methadone is taken with other drugs, such as alcohol or minor tranquillisers.
In NSW, methadone is classified as a prohibited drug. Penalties for the possession, trade, or manufacture of methadone range from $5,000 and/or 2 years in prison to a $500,000 fine and/or life imprisonment.
Only doctors authorised by the Secretary of Health can lawfully prescribe methadone. Unauthorised prescription also carries heavy penalties.
Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) is a 24 hour confidential telephone counselling service. Phone: (02) 9361 8000 or toll free: 1800 422 599.
These centralised numbers are the first point of contact for people seeking assistance for drug and alcohol problems. Callers may be assessed by telephone and referred to relevant services within the local health district.
Centralised intake lines operate Monday to Friday during business hours.