What is methadone?
Street names: juice, meth (also used to refer to
Methadone belongs to the opioid family of drugs. It is used
most commonly to treat addiction to other opioid drugs such as heroin,
oxycodone (e.g., Percodan, Percocet), fentanyl (e.g., Duragesic, Sublimaze) and
hydromorphone (e.g., Dilaudid).
Methadone is a synthetic opioid, which means that it is made
from chemicals in a lab. Methadone was developed in Germany during the Second World War
and was first used to provide pain relief.
Methadone maintenance treatment, which prevents opioid
withdrawal and reduces or eliminates drug cravings, was first developed in the
1960s. For many years, Canadian regulations around the prescription of
methadone were so restrictive that few doctors offered the treatment. People
who wanted methadone treatment often had to wait months or years.
In the 1990s, the need to reduce the harm of drug use was
more clearly recognized, and changes were made to make it easier for doctors to
provide methadone treatment.
Methadone maintenance is not a “cure”: it is a
treatment.Through treatment, people who are addicted to opioids receive the
medical and social support they need to stabilize and improve their lives. They
are encouraged to stay in treatment for as long as it helps them.
Another treatment for opioid addiction,
buprenorphine/naloxone (Subutex, Suboxone), was approved for use in Canada in 2008.
What does methadone look like?
Pure methadone is a white crystalline powder. For the
treatment of addiction, the powder is dissolved, usually in a fruit-flavoured
drink, and is taken orally once a day. Methadone is also available as a tablet
or oral solution for the treatment of severe pain.
Who uses methadone?
Most people who are prescribed methadone are being treated
for addiction to opioid drugs. This includes people who are addicted to illegal
opioids, such as heroin, and also prescription opioids, such as oxycodone,
fentanyl and hydromorphone.
Methadone is also sometimes prescribed to provide pain
relief for people who have severe chronic pain or pain associated with terminal
Methadone is sometimes used as a street drug, but when it
is, it is usually to prevent symptoms of withdrawal from other opioid drugs.
Women who use opioid drugs regularly and who are pregnant
are often treated with methadone to protect the fetus. Short-acting opioids
such as heroin or hydro-morphone must be taken frequently to avoid withdrawal.
Opioid withdrawal increases the risk of miscarriage or premature birth.
Methadone maintenance, combined with medical care, improves the chances of
having a healthy baby. There are no known long-term effects of methadone on the
People who inject opioid drugs regularly, and who are HIV-
or hepatitis C–positive, are enrolled in methadone treatment to help protect
their health. Methadone treatment also helps to prevent these infections from
spreading to others through needle sharing.
The number of people receiving methadone maintenance
treatment in Ontario
has increased sharply in recent years, from 6,000 in 2000 to 38,000 in 2012.
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