A synthetic opiate used as an alternative to heroin
Methadone is a synthetic opiate manufactured for use as a painkiller and as a substitute for heroin in the treatment of heroin addiction. It has similar effects to heroin but doesn't deliver the same degree of buzz or high as heroin.
A patient who is addicted to heroin will often be prescribed methadone to take instead of heroin and the dose of methadone is gradually reduced over time. This means that the patient can give up heroin avoiding acute withdrawal symptoms.
In treatment of addiction, methadone dose is usually aimed initially at preventing the withdrawal symptoms that would otherwise develop when street heroin is stopped. The methadone dose can subsequently be reduced by agreement with the patient until the user is off the drug completely.
This allows people time to tackle their psychological addiction and to stabilise their lifestyle. There may still be some problems with opiate withdrawal symptoms, depending on how fast methadone is withdrawn but this substitution treatment is much less severe than going 'cold turkey'.
How does it make you feel?
The effects include:
- slowing down body functioning and reducing physical and psychological pain
- reducing physical and psychological pain
- feelings of warmth, relaxation and detachment
- relieving feelings of anxiety
How long the effects last and the drug stays in your system depends on how much you’ve taken, your size, whether you’ve eaten and what other drugs you may have also taken.
To kick in
The effects of methadone can start quickly.
How long it lasts
Methadone can last several hours.
How long will it be detectable?
Methadone can show up in a urine test for 2 to 5 days after using.
How long a drug can be detected for depends on how much is taken and which testing kit is used. This is only a general guide.
Physical health risks
Taking methadone illegally does involve risks. Methadone that’s prescribed by a doctor is subject to stringent controls, as with any other medicine, so you can be sure of its strength and that it has not been tampered with.
You can't be as sure with methadone that's bought on the street how pure it is. Here’s what it could do to you:
Overdoses that can lead to coma (and even death from respiratory failure i.e. when breathing stops).
Some people are sick the first time they take it and they can become very constipated.
With high doses, users feel sleepy. Even higher, and the user can fall into a coma or stop breathing completely.
Opiates may possibly increase the risk of miscarriage and still births and opiate users may give birth to smaller babies. However, it's not a good idea to stop using opiates suddenly if you're pregnant as this can cause premature labour and miscarriage. Methadone can be continued throughout pregnancy to minimise such risks.
What is methadone cut with?
Street methadone may be an unusually concentrated variant and more powerful than expected.
Methadone bought on the street may have been tampered with and there’s no way of knowing how strong it will be, increasing the risk of overdose.
Can you get addicted?
Because methadone has similar effects to heroin, you can easily become addicted – especially if you are taking methadone to get ‘high’. You can build a tolerance to it, needing higher doses to get the same effects; and can develop marked withdrawals, particularly if its use is stopped suddenly.
However, if methadone is used appropriately as part of treatment of a painful condition, there is much less chance of becoming addicted. The patient is usually monitored by their doctor and the dose of methadone is reduced over time as the painful condition improves.
This is a Class A drug, which means it's illegal to have for yourself, give away or sell.
Possession can get you up to 7 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both.
Supplying someone else, even your friends, can get you life in prison, an unlimited fine or both.
Like drink-driving, driving when high is dangerous and illegal. If you’re caught driving under the influence, you may receive a heavy fine, driving ban, or prison sentence.
If the police catch people supplying illegal drugs in a home, club, bar or hostel, they can potentially prosecute the landlord, club owner or any other person concerned in the management of the premises.