Methadone use in Australia
Methadone belongs to the group of drugs known as opioids.
Opioids are classed as depressant drugs as they work by slowing down the functions of the central nervous system. Alcohol, cannabis and benzodiazepines are examples of other depressant drugs.
Its effects are much longer lasting than heroin, a single dose being effective for approximately 24 hours; the effects of heroin may only last for a couple of hours.
In a treatment program, methadone is usually given out in syrup form and drunk with cordial or fruit juice.
“done” or “the done”
What it looks like
Methadone comes as a tablet, syrup or injection.
How is it used?
Generally, there are two types of methadone programs:
The effects of any drug (including methadone) vary from person to person. How methadone affects a person depends on many things including their size, weight and health, also whether the person is used to taking it and whether other drugs are taken around the same time. The effects of any drug also depend on the amount taken.
There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk—even medications can produce unwanted side effects. It is important to be careful when taking any type of drug.
Symptoms of a methadone dose being too low may resemble having a bout of flu. They include:
Symptoms of too high a dose include:
Other side effects
Some people may also experience certain side effects that are unrelated to the dosage, including:
For those with pre-existing impaired liver function (following conditions such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C infection, or prolonged alcohol use), the methadone dose may require careful monitoring.
Other effects of methadone use
Taking methadone with other drugs
Deaths related to methadone only are rare. Methadone-related deaths are usually due to combining methadone with other drugs, particularly benzodiazepines and alcohol. Dealing with a methadone overdose.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Methadone use in the workplace
Under occupational health and safety legislation, all employees have a responsibility to make sure they look after their own and their co-workers’ safety. The effects of methadone such as drowsiness and sedation can affect a person’s ability to work safely and effectively.
People who use methadone regularly for a prolonged period can develop dependence and tolerance to it, which means they need to take more methadone to get the effect they are used to having.
In Australia, there are many different types of treatments for drug problems. Some aim to help a person to stop using a drug, while others aim to reduce the risks and harm related to their drug use. Find out more about treatment.
What to do if you are concerned about someone’s methadone use
If you are concerned about someone’s drug use, there is help available. Contact the alcohol and drug information service in your state or territory.
Always call triple zero (000) if a drug overdose is known or suspected—and remember that paramedics are not obliged to involve the police.
According to National Opioid Pharmacotherapy Statistics Annual Data collection [PDF: 709KB] (new window), in 2009, approximately 30,000 Australians were undertaking methadone treatment.
For more statistics about the use of methadone in Australia, visit our statistics
National drug policy
Australia’s national drug policy is based on harm minimisation. Strategies to minimise harm include encouraging people to avoid using a drug, through to helping people to reduce the risk of harm if they do use a drug. It aims to reduce all types of drug-related harm to both the individual and the community.