Methadone Overdose, Deaths on Rise in U.S.
Throughout the United States, overdoses and deaths from methadone, a drug used to relieve chronic pain and treat individuals with heroin addiction, is on the rise, the New York Times reported Feb. 2.
According to state and federal officials, the increase is a result of methadone being misused by recreational drug users.
In Florida, methadone-related deaths rose from 209 in 2000 to 357 in 2001 to 254 in the first six months of 2002, the most recent period for which data is available. In North Carolina, methadone deaths increased eightfold, from 7 in 1997 to 58 in 2001.
"Out of no place came methadone," said James McDonough, director of the Florida Office of Drug Control. "It now is the fastest-rising killer drug."
Drug experts are stunned over the increase in methadone overdoses and deaths because the drug, which does not provide a quick or potent high, lacks the qualities typical of a substance that would be abused.
"We've got years of experience with methadone and suddenly we've got this problem," said Dr. H. Westley Clark, director of the federal Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. "We realize that lives are being lost and we're trying to stop that. But we're trying not to do quick fixes that will cause us more problems."
According to health and law-enforcement officials, individuals addicted to the painkiller OxyContin have turned to methadone when they couldn't get the prescription drug. Furthermore, methadone has become more readily available as more physicians prescribe it for pain relief.
"The availability of methadone for treatment and pain has put people who would not normally be in a position to divert drugs in that position," said Sgt. Scott J. Pelletier, who works for the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency.
To address the problem, Dr. Andrea G. Barthwell, the White House drug czar's deputy director for demand reduction, said efforts are underway to educate physicians about methadone and identify doctors who help patients abuse or sell the drug.