Department of Health

Maintenance pharmacotherapy

Key messages

  • Pharmacotherapy is an effective treatment for opioid dependence. 
  • The Victorian policy for prescribing and dispensing of pharmacotherapies is explained in the Policy for maintenance pharmacotherapy for opioid dependence (2016).
  • The policy outlines safe and effective practice related to the prescribing of pharmacotherapies, such as methadone and buprenorphine, and the appropriate dispensing of pharmacotherapies by pharmacies.

Pharmacotherapy, or opioid replacement therapy (ORT) is an effective treatment for opioid dependence.

Pharmacotherapy can be used for several types of patients:

  • those who have used heroin for a long time
  • those experiencing problematic use of prescription opioids and over-the-counter codeine-containing analgesics.

Studies have shown that many people who stop using opioids will relapse and start using illicit opioids. Maintenance pharmacotherapies can prove valuable in assisting these people to successfully manage physical dependence, drug craving and compulsive drug use.

Methadone and buprenorphine have been used to treat opioid dependence, both in detoxification from opioids and maintenance treatment.

Revised Policy for maintenance pharmacotherapy for opioid dependence

Victoria's current Policy for maintenance pharmacotherapy for opioid dependence has been revised and will be effective from 1 September 2016.There is significant focus in the revised Policy on pharmacotherapy take-away doses, which can be fatal if diverted, shared or ingested incorrectly.

Pharmacotherapy providers are encouraged read the revised policy and understand that the tightened guidelines deliver stronger, clearer, safer and additional advice on the provision of pharmacotherapies throughout Victoria.

Reviewed 23 August 2022


Contact us

Department of Health

Victorian Opioid Pharmacotherapy Program Mental Health and Wellbeing Division

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