Methadone is a prescription drug, and is part of a group of drugs known as opioids. Opioids are depressant drugs, which means they slow down the messages travelling between the brain and the rest of the body.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.
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:
Maintenance (long-term programs): May last for months or years, and aim to reduce the harms associated with drug use and improve quality of life.
Withdrawal (short-term detoxification programs): Run for approximately 5-14 days and aim to ease the discomfort of stopping the use of heroin.4
For pain relief methadone is administered through an injection or tablets.
How effective is it?
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.