Harm Reduction Victoria

What is Pharmacotherapy?

What is Pharmacotherapy?

Pharmacotherapy, when used with regard to substance dependence  refers to the replacement of a person’s drug of choice with a legally prescribed and dispensed substitute. There are pharmacotherapies for those experiencing difficulties with a range of medical conditions, but the information provided here is intended for people with a problematic opioid dependency.

The most commonly used opioids in Australia today are oxycontin, fentanyl (and other prescription formulations), heroin, and the pharmacotherapy medications methadone and buprenorphine. All have the potential to produce dependence.

Pharmacotherapy for opioid users is sometimes referred to as:

• Opioid Replacement Therapy/Treatment (ORT)

• Opioid Pharmacotherapy Program (OPP)

• Opioid Substitution Therapy/Treatment (OST)

Though not effective for everyone, many find that pharmacotherapy has the ability to stabilise their condition, allowing them to devote more time to managing or repairing their lives. Once stabilised, clients may find they wish to strive for a drug-free existence by slowly reducing their dosage – or else they may be satisfied with a maintenance program.

Pharmacotherapy has been found to reduce opiate-related harm to both the individual and society. Though other treatments exist (behavioural therapy, drug detoxification etc.) it is at present our most effective answer to the problems associated with opioid dependence.

Pharmacotherapy programs are available throughout most of Australia. However, each state or territory has its own pharmacotherapy policy and programs can vary considerably.

Pharmacotherapy Medications

There are four different pharmacotherapy drugs available in Victoria. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. When deciding with your doctor which is right for you, it may be helpful to peruse our linked fact sheets:

Methadone – Methadone Syrup & Biodone​ Forte  (liquid)

Buprenorphine – Subutex  (sublingual tablet)

Buprenorphine/naloxone -Suboxone  (sublingual tablet & film)

Naltrexone(tablet, subcutaneous implant, injection)