A report form the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that nearly one-third of deaths due to prescription painkiller overdose may be attributed to the synthetic opioid methadone.
The CDC study consisted of an analysis of national data on prescription sales and deaths due to overdose from 1999 until 2010. The report also included an analysis of data on deaths from methadone and other opioids, such as Oxycontin, Vicodin, and heroin, from 13 states covered by the Drug Abuse Warning Network, for the year 2009.
The analysis showed that despite the fact that only 2 percent of prescriptions for opioid painkillers are for methadone, the drug accounts for nearly one in three of overdose deaths due to prescription painkillers. In 2009, it was found that six times as many people died due to overdoses related to methadone, when compared against data from a decade earlier.
In addition, the report indicated that about 4 million prescriptions for methadone are written annually for the management of pain, and that it causes about 5,000 deaths due to overdose each year. A significant 40 percent of deaths involving a single drug in 2009 could be attributed to methadone – despite the fact that most cases of overdose involve a cocktail of several drugs.
CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden issued the following statement: “Deaths from opioid overdose have increased fourfold in the past decade, and methadone now accounts for nearly a third of opioid-associated deaths.”
The CDC director also delivered the following statement during a press teleconference held on Tuesday: “We’re not talking about methadone maintenance treatment in this data… All of the evidence suggests that the increase in methadone related deaths is related to increased use of methadone to treat pain.”
Methadone is a drug normally used for the treatment of addiction, and has been used as such since the 1960s. Recently, however, there has been an increase in its prescription for pain management, despite warnings from federal health officials against its use as a pain reliever of choice.