A study by CDC Vital Signs
and report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
, say that the opioid pain reliever, methadone, was involved in more than 30 percent of prescription painkiller overdose deaths, yet as little as 2% of painkiller prescriptions in the United States in 2009 were for this drug.
The report was compiled from data gathered 1999-2010 from 13 states being covered by a surveillance system for drug-related deaths and states that more than 15,500 people die every year of prescription drug overdoses, and nearly one-third of those overdoses involve the drug methadone.
Methadone named on many insurance companies preferred drug lists, is available as a low-cost generic drug. It has been used for decades to treat drug addiction, but in the last few years has been commonly prescribed as a pain killer especially for chronic back problems. Taking Methadone 3 times or more daily can cause a build up of the drug in the system and it has been known to interfere with breathing and heart rate
More than 4 million methadone prescriptions were written in the US for pain in 2009.
CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. is quoted as saying:
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 this 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.
The report states that the US government is:
• Enforcing federal laws to prevent nonmedical use of methadone.
• Educating health care providers and consumers about the correct use of methadone.
• Tracking prescription drug overdose trends and the impact of efforts to stop overdoses.