Please note: The information given on this page is not medical advice and should not be relied on in this way. Individuals wanting medical advice on this issue should consult a health professional.
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.
Done or 'the done'.
How is it used?
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.
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.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.5
Advantages of methadone maintenance over heroin use
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 any of the following effects are experienced an ambulance should be called 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, apart from tooth decay.8
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
Reducing the risks
ADIN – Find other credible websites and apps on pharmacotherapy.
1. Upfal, J. (2006). The Australian Drug Guide. (7th ed.). Black Inc: Collingwood.
2. Brands B; Sproule B; & Marshman J. (Eds.) (1998) Drugs & Drug Abuse (3rd Ed.) Ontario: Addiction Research Foundation.
3. Harm Reduction Victoria. (n.d.). Methadone.
4. Kleber, H. (2007). Pharmacologic treatments for opioid dependence: detoxification and maintenance options.
5. Rankin, J. & Mattick, R. (1997). Review of the effectiveness of methadone maintenance treatment and analysis of St. Mary's clinic, Sydney.
6. NSW Health. (2013). Methadone.
7. Henry-Edwards, S., Gowing, L., White, J., Ali, R., Bell, J. Brough, R., Lintzeris, N. Ritter, A. & Quigley, A. (2003). Clinical guidelines and procedures for the use of methadone in the maintenance treatment of opioid dependence.
8. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (2011). Do you know... Methadone.
Last updated: 20 May 2016