Methadone Deaths Jump Sharply in Recent Years

October 1, 2009
Andy Miller

The potential danger was underscored in a new federal report that said the number of deaths involving methadone jumped nearly sevenfold from 1999 to 2006.

The rise in methadone-related fatalities was faster than increases in deaths from other opioid analgesics — drugs usually prescribed to relieve pain such as OxyContin and fentanyl — and from other narcotics.

Overall, poisoning deaths involving all opioid analgesics more than tripled over the seven-year time frame, increasing among all age groups, said the report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Methadone is widely known for treatment of heroin addiction, but it has been increasingly prescribed to manage pain.

The CDC statistics buttressed a March report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which said methadone’s growing use for pain management has made more of the drug available, thus contributing to an increase in methadone-related overdose deaths.

Sharp rise in methadone prescriptions
Methadone prescriptions for pain management jumped from about 531,000 in 1998 to more than 4 million in 2006, the GAO found. Deaths related to the drug can occur from improper dosing levels, misuse by patients who may combine it with other drugs, or abuse of the drug for non-medical purposes, the agency said.

The CDC report said “a lack of knowledge about the unique properties of methadone was identified as contributing to some deaths.’’ More…