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HOT TOPICS: Drug and Alcohol Treatment  Heroin

One Third of Painkiller Deaths Involve Methadone

Methadone is best known as a treatment for heroin addicts. It's also prescribed for pain far too often.


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By Valerie Tejeda


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One third of prescription painkiller deaths in the US involve the drug methadone, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Methadone is best know for its use as a prescribed treatment for heroin addicts. But it's also prescribed to treat pain—and most of the deaths it causes are among these pain patients, rather than addicts in recovery programs. The figures are startling: although methadone represents only 2% of US painkiller prescriptions, it accounts for over 30% of prescription painkiller OD deaths. The report also shows that methadone deaths have been rising: six times as many people died from ODs in 2009 than in 1999—although better news is that the death rate seems to have peaked in 2007. "There are many safer alternatives to methadone for chronic non-cancer pain." says CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden. According his agency, one problem is that methadone is often prescribed incorrectly by doctors who aren't skilled in the area of pain management. The CDC suggests that insurance companies should stop listing methadone as a preferred pain drug, and that doctors should start screening patents for substance abuse problems before they prescribe it.

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