Overdoses on methadone by physician prescriptions for pain even though the drug lacks evidence
Even though methadone accounts for a small fraction of prescriptions for pain, the drug methadone, an opioid treatment is the guilty party in nearly one in three prescription overdose deaths, as reported Tuesday by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
View slideshow: Non-drug treatment for pain
Just last year the CDC issued a report revealing that street drugs such heroin and cocaine have lower death incident rates than that of prescription painkillers.
At that time Dr., Director of the CDC had commented during a telebriefing “we are in the midst of an epidemic of prescription narcotic drug overdose.”
Now Dr. Friedman is back in the media concerning the prescription drug epidemic as he referred to it last year, now Dr. Friedman along with colleagues state around 50,000 patients had died from methadone overdose in 2009, which was almost six times greater than the previous ten years according to reports in Vital Signs.
Methadone similar to morphine is used to reduce withdrawal symptoms in people addicted to heroin and other narcotic drugs; however it is also prescribed by physicians as a painkiller. Through the years insurance providers have increasingly have made methadone a top-tier drug for chronic pain due to the low cost the drug.
Dr. Friedman had this to say concerning methadone as a painkiller, "Methadone is riskier than other prescription painkillers ... and we don't think it has a role in the treatment of acute pain," this related in a phone call with reporters noted by Med Page Today.
Besides methadone when it comes to painkiller deaths Vicodin (hydrocodone), OxyContin (oxycodone) and Opana (oxymorphone) are also on the list of painkillers with death rates increasing four times more over a decade. Last year’s report from the CDC had noted the above said drugs had been involved in 14,800 overdose deaths in 2008.
Where is the methadone problem stemming from? According to the CDC report methadone just like other pain killers is commonly prescribed for chronic problems such as back pain, even though it might not help these problems in the long run.
More than 4 million methadone prescriptions were written for pain in 2009, despite US Food and Drug Administration warnings about the risks associated with methadone.
Dr. Friedman states "All of the evidence suggests that the increase in methadone-related deaths is related to the increased use of methadone to treat pain," as cited by MedPage Today.
Dr. Friedman notes that using methadone this situation (pain treatment) "is penny wise and pound foolish ... with higher societal costs in terms of death and other problems that can be avoided.”
Dr. Leonard J. Paulozzi, MD, MPH, lead author of CDC report, noted that physicians around 15 years ago started prescribing methadone for pain to replace prescriptions for OxyContin that had increasingly had been tied to abuse and death. Methadone appeared to be a safer alternative.
Dr. Friedman notes that recent campaigns from the FDA and DEA appear to be having an impact on methadone overdoses and deaths.
In April of this year it had been reported that Michigan has one of the highest numbers for prescription drug abuse.
According to methadone’s share of prescription pain killers dispensed in each state Michigan is listed at 11.5 to 18.5, the highest percentage according to the map. In the high percentages on the map along with Michigan are the following states; Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Arkansas, Alabama, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire.
The state of Michigan does have the automated prescription system. This monitoring program is used to identify and prevent drug diversion at the prescriber, pharmacy and patient levels.
Since 2000, over 550 overdose and drug poisoning deaths related have been recorded in northern and central Michigan. The majority of these deaths are related to prescription drugs.
In 2010, 1,000 people were treated at hospitals for prescription drug overdoses in the NMSAS service area.
The new report from the CDC can be viewed online at CDC Vital Signs.