What is Methadone?
Methadone is a powerful opioid medication that belongs to a group of drugs commonly used for pain management. Alongside codeine, morphine, and heroin, methadone plays a vital role in providing relief to individuals suffering from severe or chronic pain. Additionally, methadone is also employed in the treatment of opioid addiction, serving as a crucial component of medication-assisted therapy (MAT) programs.
How is methadone used?
Methadone, typically available in the form of syrup, is primarily utilized in the treatment of individuals dependent on heroin. In Australia, the use of methadone is strictly regulated and legal only within the context of a comprehensive treatment program. Methadone treatment programs are established in all states and territories across the country, with the exception of the Northern Territory. In certain circumstances, supervised takeaway doses may also be permitted.
Methadone treatment programs in Australia are designed to address opioid dependency by providing individuals with controlled doses of methadone, alongside counseling and support services. The goal is to assist individuals in stabilizing their lives, reducing withdrawal symptoms, and curbing drug cravings, ultimately leading them toward recovery and a healthier lifestyle.
Who can receive methadone treatment?
Generally, a person has to be over 18 years old 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.
Why is methadone a better alternative to heroin?
Methadone serves as a superior alternative to being dependent on heroin for several compelling reasons. Let’s explore why methadone is preferred in the context of opioid dependency treatment.
First and foremost, methadone is administered orally, eliminating the risks associated with using shared or contaminated injecting equipment. By avoiding injection drug use, individuals reduce their chances of contracting bloodborne infections such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or HIV. This oral administration method ensures a safer and healthier approach to managing opioid dependence.
Secondly, methadone can be administered within a controlled clinical environment, ensuring the drug’s purity and quality. Unlike street-sourced heroin, which may be adulterated or mixed with harmful substances, methadone obtained through treatment programs is regulated and standardized. This eliminates the uncertainty and potential dangers associated with consuming impure or unknown substances.
What are the effects of methadone?
The effects of methadone are similar to heroin. They can include relief from pain, the feeling of well-being, nausea, and vomiting.
- The pupils of the eye become smaller.
- Body temperature drops.
- Blood pressure and pulse slow down.
Methadone may also affect a person’s ability to drive a car or operate heavy machinery.
Long term effects
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:
- stomach cramps
- runny nose
- sleeping difficulties
- joint pain.
These symptoms reach their peak on the sixth day but some may last for a few weeks.
Can you overdose on methadone?
Overdose will 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 tranquilizers.
Methadone and the law
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 authorized by the Secretary of Health can lawfully prescribe methadone. Unauthorized prescription also carries heavy penalties.