A substitute for heroin, but many end up getting hooked
Methadone is used to treat people who have an addiction to heroin - but it can often lead to the person becoming reliant on it instead of going clean.
It's a synthetically-created opiate that is used as a step-down drug to regulate the addict's need and use for heroin while avoiding acute withdrawal symptoms.
Opiates are sedative drugs that depress the nervous system and slow down body functioning while reducing physical and psychological pain.
However, it's also a Class A drug that is illegal to have, give away or sell and possession can get the offender up to seven years in prison. Once a heroin addict agrees to seek help, methadone can be prescribed by a GP and dispensed by a local pharmacist to the person requiring treatment in a safe and confidential way.
It is prescribed in increasingly lower doses in an agreed treatment plan that should allow the addict to gradually take control of his or her life, returning to work or managing their family life better.
The key benefits of methadone for the patient include:
- Reducing physical and psychological pain.
- Feelings of warmth, relaxation as well as detachment.
- Reducing overdoses that can lead to coma (and even death from respiratory failure).
However, it's a challenge for healthcare professionals to support the patient while they reduce their usage.
There are strict protocols that govern how the substitute opiate can be prescribed by doctors, particularly with patients who have complex physical or mental health conditions and pregnant women.