Background Despite growing concern about illicit methadone use in the US and other countries, there is little data about the prevalence and correlates of methadone use in large urban areas. We assessed the prevalence and examined correlates of lifetime and recent illicit methadone use in New York City (NYC). Methods 1,415 heroin, crack, and cocaine users aged 15–40 years were recruited in NYC between 2000 and 2004 to complete interviewer-administered questionnaires. Results In multivariable logistic regression, non-injection drug users who used illicit methadone were more likely to be heroin dependent, less than daily methamphetamine users and to have a heroin using sex partner in the last two months. Injection drug users who used illicit methadone were more likely to use heroin daily, share injection paraphernalia and less likely to have been in a detoxification program and to have not used marijuana in the last six months. Conclusion The results overall suggest that illicit (or street) methadone use is likely not a primary drug of choice, but is instead more common in concert with other illicit drug use.