A palliative care doctor at the Moncton Hospital says methadone often has fewer side effects and can help with chronic pain. (Chuck Branham/Associated Press)

A Moncton palliative care doctor is speaking at a health conference in Saint John on Thursday in an attempt to shed some light on the benefits of methadone.

Dr. Pam Mansfield said she wants to remove the stigma around the medication that is often associated with drug addicts.

Mansfield said methadone was seldom used when she took her training in palliative care.

Now, she turns to it as a first choice for some patients.

"For patients who we see who have uncontrolled pain we might even just start with methadone as opposed to starting with morphine or hydromorphone," said Mansfield.

Methadone is being used more and more to help terminally ill patients.

Mansfield said it's because the medication has fewer side effects and can help with chronic pain.

"I always get the raised eyebrows and I can see in the back of their head 'I'm not going to take this,' so I really have to explain about how methadone even came about, and what is in the opioid family, and how all these medications are used," she said.

"It often takes an awful lot of explaining and making sure the patients and the family and the caregivers understand why we're using this medication."

Doctors need a special license to prescribe the drug, but Mansfield said she hopes health care professionals and their patients can become more comfortable with it.

"We're really trying to destigmatize — whenever you hear the word 'methadone' that people don't automatically assume it's for addiction.," said Mansfield.

Other topics will be featured at the New Brunswick Hospice Palliative Care Association's 2013 annual conference, including ways to improve care for people with dementia, and how to deal with compassion fatigue.

This year's two-day conference, entitled Living Through Palliative Care, will be held at the Hilton Saint John.