Methadone Overdoses

Painkiller abuse kills thousands of people every year

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Methadone can be prescribed safely for cancer-level pain and heroin addiction. When abused, it’s responsible for more prescription painkiller overdose deaths than any other opioid.

According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), abuse of a methadone prescription can be deadly.

Proper monitoring of methadone prescriptions could reduce the chance of death.

"Take all unused prescriptions to a local Take-Back site."

According to a new report released by the CDC, 15,500 people died from prescription painkiller overdoses in 2009 alone. Of those prescription painkiller overdoses, 30 percent were from methadone.

Methadone has been around for years to treat not only pain but also drug addiction—primarily heroin. Methadone can build up in a person’s system over time and affect their heart rhythm and breathing.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) oversees the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), which looks over drug-related deaths in 13 states.

DAWN furnished data from 1999-2010, revealing that four out of every 10 painkiller overdoses involved methadone. That is twice as many deaths attributed to methadone than any other painkiller.

This powerful opioid made up two percent of painkiller prescriptions in the US in 2009.

When researchers compared the methadone overdose numbers from 1999 to 2009 they discovered that, over the course of a decade, deaths had increased six times the baseline rate.

CDC Director, Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, said, “Deaths from opioid overdose have increased four-fold in the past decade, and methadone now accounts for nearly a third of opioid-associated deaths. Methadone used for heroin substitution treatment does not appear to be a major part of the problem.”

“However, the amount of methadone prescribed to people in pain has increased dramatically. There are many safer alternatives to methadone for chronic non-cancer pain.”

Linda C. Degutis, PhD, MSN, director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, said, “Methadone continues to play an important role in substance abuse treatment and should not be limited in its use for that application.”

“Healthcare providers can take precautions to reduce the risks of methadone overdose when used to treating pain.”

The CDC recommends healthcare providers use caution and closely monitor all methadone prescriptions for abuse.

This study was released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on July 3rd.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 8, 2012
Last Updated:
December 28, 2012