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Methadone is a synthetic opiate manufactured for use as a painkiller and as 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.

Opiates are sedative drugs that depress the nervous system. They slow down body functioning and reduce physical and psychological pain.

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.

Unfortunately UK drug treatment policies have left a number of people dependent on high doses of methadone. The detox for methadone is usually 5mg per week, so for someone on 70ml of methadone, this means the detox alone can take 12 weeks.

The key effects of methadone include reducing physical and psychological pain, feelings of warmth, relaxation and detachment.

Overdoses can lead to coma (and even death from respiratory failure i.e. when breathing stops). 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. Street methadone may be an unusually concentrated variant and more powerful than expected

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.

Mixing methadone with alcohol, or with other sedatives such as benzodiazepines, can have serious consequences: an overdose is more likely, and this can lead to a coma or respiratory failure and death.

Methadone is controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act making it illegal to possess them or to supply them to other people without a prescription. Methadone is treated as a Class A drug where the maximum penalties are 7 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine for possession and life imprisonment and an unlimited fine for supply.

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