Methadone is prescribed to people who take heroin or other opiates to help reduce the risks of their illicit drug use. Methadone is usually prescribed as a liquid but it also comes in injectable and tablet forms. Methadone dose is measured in milligrams (mg). Liquid preparations are usually 1 mg per 1 ml of fluid, but it is sometimes made as 10 mg per 1 ml. As little as 5 mg can kill a child - methadone should always be stored out of reach of children.
WHAT IS METHADONE?
Methadone is a chemical that has been manufactured to mimic many of the opiates - drugs that are manufactured from the products of the opium poppy - such as heroin.
WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF METHADONE?
All opiates have a wide range of effects on the mind and body. Methadone is a much longer-acting drug than heroin and can usually be taken once a day without the user experiencing withdrawal symptoms. It causes no physical damage to the brain, liver, kidneys or bones It can cause: a sense of well-being and absence of stress which is much less intense but much longer acting than that produced by heroin; constipation; small pupils; sweating; itchy skin.
WHY IS IT PRESCRIBED?
Research has shown that, when prescribed an adequate daily dose of methadone, heroin users are more stable and less likely to: use street drugs; inject (and if they do they are less likely to share injecting equipment); be involved in crime and they are more able to keep other aspects of their lives together. This is mainly because they no longer experience acute withdrawal symptoms and because methadone satisfies some of the psychological need to take opiates.
ARE THERE PROBLEMS WITH METHADONE?
Taking extra methadone or mixing it with other depressants such as temazepam or alcohol greatly increases the risk of overdose. Methadone has a high dependency potential nut it is not "much more addictive than heroin" - the physical withdrawal can be worse with methadone but the psychological desire to take heroin is usually much stronger than the desire to take methadone. Opiates do not cause damage to unborn babies: withdrawal symptoms and lack of contact with antenatal services are much more dangerous to a baby than a regular prescribed dose of methadone.
DOES METHADONE WORK ON ITS OWN?
The chance of methadone being helpful in reducing drug-related harm are increased if it is offered alongside other forms of help such as: advice and support; counseling; structured programmes.
METHADONE AND THE LAW
Methadone is a class A drug: it is only legal to possess methadone that has been prescribed for you. The maximum sentence for unlawful possession is 7 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine. The maximum sentence for supplying methadone (including giving some to a friend) is life imprisonment and an unlimited fine.