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Pharmacotherapy is an evidence-based medical treatment that can drastically improve and even save lives.


What is Pharmacotherapy?

Pharmacotherapy is an effective medical treatment to reduce people’s use of heroin or other addictive drugs such as Oxycontin and Fentanyl.  It is also referred to as opioid replacement therapy (ORT), opioid substitution therapy (OST) or Medication-Assisted Treatment of Opioid Dependence (MATOD).

Opioid dependence is a complex health condition that affects people from all walks of life – not only injecting drug users but also people who become addicted to pain relievers through a range of different circumstances. Long-term treatment and care involving medications such as methadone and buprenorphine (Suboxone) have been proven to:

  • Reduce the use of heroin or other opiates
  • Reduce the rate of criminal activity in the community
  • Prevent the spread of blood-borne viruses
  • Assist people to stabilise their lives and lead more productive lives
  • Reduce illness and death related to drug taking.

In Victoria the most common way to access this treatment is through general practitioners, who prescribe the medication, and local pharmacists, who dispense it.


Evidence base

Further resources on the evidence-base for ORT can be found at the following links:


Personal stories

Alex’s story

When I first started taking drugs, I was 23 years old. I had a good family background, a private school education and had just qualified as a carpenter. I was working full-time and living with my girlfriend; from the outside it looked like I had a normal life. However, I’d started abusing prescription drugs such as oxycodone, endone and morphine.

I bought them illegally on the street - usually tablets or syrup. Depending on the day, I might take as much as 80 mg oxycodone. I was regularly travelling between Ballarat and Melbourne just to buy drugs. After six to nine months of this, I realised I needed help and went to see my local doctor. My doctor started me on a course of suboxone which worked for a while. After a time I felt like using again and started skipping doses sometimes. My doctor transferred me onto methadone which I found more effective in helping with my cravings. My parents were still really worried about me – they knew I’d been struggling with drug use and they didn’t like the fact that I was on methadone treatment. My doctor got us all together for a meeting to explain the treatment and develop a plan for managing the problem together. We worked out that my wages would be paid into my Dad’s account so that I wouldn’t have spare cash to buy street drugs. At first I hated giving that control away, but it stopped me using and I started saving money.

Over time I stopped craving drugs. My friends would pressure me but I found I was strong enough to resist the temptation. My treatment has let me get my life in order and back on track – I’m starting to look to the future again.