Methadone is a synthetic opioid. It is prescribed to dependent users of heroin and other opioids as a substitute for these drugs over a prolonged period of time (can be indefinite), and can be used where detoxification has been unsuccessful and/or admittance to a substance abuse treatment facility requires complete abstinence.
In methadone maintenance treatment programs, methadone usually comes as a syrup that patients drink with fruit juice or cordial. “Methadone maintenance makes possible a first step toward social rehabilitation. . .” (Auerbach, 1976 p. 26) by fixing and maintaining the level of drugs in an addicts system thereby avoiding the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that abstinence from the substance of abuse initiates.
Effects of Methadone
Methadone has similar depressant and analgesic effects to other opioids. However, methadone’s effects last much longer (24 hours as opposed to a few hours). Methadone does not have the euphoric effects that heroin does.
If an excessively low dose of methadone is prescribed, effects similar to those of heroin withdrawal may be experienced (that is, flu-like symptoms, nausea, diarrhoea, aches, irritability and insomnia). On the contrary, an excessively high dose can cause similar effects to those associated with long-term heroin use (for example, drowsiness, nausea, dizziness, shallow breathing, low body temperature, slow pulse, heart palpitations).
Side effects of methadone (not related to the dosage level) can include excessive sweating, constipation, aches, rashes, fluid retention, loss of appetite and stomach cramps. Long-term methadone use causes tooth decay. Taking methadone in combination with other depressants increases the risk of overdose. If someone who is not dependent on opioids takes methadone the effects are very strong and the risk of overdose is very high.
Methadone can only be legally obtained by prescription from a doctor who is a registered methadone prescriber. Injecting methadone, taking more than one dose at a time, or supplying one’s methadone to someone else is illegal. Stiff penalties apply to illicit possession or supply of methadone and to illicit prescription of methadone.