Opioid Painkiller Methadone Fueling Prescription Drug Addiction Deaths Across America

Opioid Painkiller Methadone Fueling Prescription Drug Addiction Deaths Across America

Deaths and addictions involving the opioid painkiller methadone are rising faster than those from all other prescription narcotics, says the National Drug Intelligence Center, surpassing even OxyContin and Vicodin, which are major players in America's epidemic of prescription drug addiction.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), methadone prescriptions increased 715% between 2001 to 2006. And in November 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a Public Health Advisory about the dangers of methadone, following the CDC's release of abuse and death statistics.

The CDC reported that methadone overdoses killed 3,849 people in 2004, a 390% increase since just 1999. And a review of information from state health departments show that teens and young adults aged 15 to 24 are being hit hardest by prescription drug addiction involving narcotic pain killers and especially deaths involving methadone.

The problem with methadone is that, compared to other narcotics, it metabolizes more slowly and persists in the body longer than its effects do - whether legitimate pain relief or the euphoric high. Before it is gone from the body, users think they need more and, when they take it, the new dose adds to the residual dose persisting in the body. This is how many people suffer deadly overdoses from methadone.

It's is an especially dangerous situation for young, inexperienced users, who lack this critical information about methadone dosing. They can quickly build up to a lethally toxic level and suffer an overdose, leading to an emergency ward, or too often, death.

Also, like all narcotics, methadone is enormously addictive. There are tens of thousands of methadone addicts in the country, many who have been placed on the drug as a substitute for heroin addiction. Widely used for decades to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and block the cravings of heroin addiction, methadone is increasingly taking the place of proper drug rehab programs. This so-called "replacement therapy" is trading heroin addiction for prescription drug addiction. Apparently it's cheaper for local and state governments to pass out methadone and create thousands of new prescription drug addiction victims than to provide effective drug rehab.

The results of less crime and reductions in diseases spread by needle sharing would appear to favor the practice. But with thousands of new prescription drug addicts patrolling city streets, still looking for heroin or any other narcotics they can find, and often selling their free-clinic methadone to other junkies, the results are less than stellar - just more prescription drug addiction rather than rehabilitated lives.

Used as a pain reliever since the 1940s, methadone slipped into the background for some decades as the newer opioid painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet and many others took precedence. But because of its far lower cost, and the prescription drug addiction problems associated with OxyContin, methadone has begun to be prescribed more often.

But never mind the users - it's been learned that even many doctors do not fully understand the addiction and overdose potentials of methadone. The numbers of people succumbing to prescription drug addiction in general, but methadone addiction and overdose deaths in particular, now far outstrip even those experimenting with heroin, morphine and other illicit drugs.

Tom Riley, spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said prescription drugs have even surpassed marijuana as the drug of choice for new users in many communities, where prescription drug addiction is now the number one problem among youths and young adults.

"The larger story is the widespread abuse of prescription painkillers in America," Riley said. "The abuse and misuse of prescription drugs is far more dangerous and far more widespread than most Americans realize."

And as for heroin addicts placed on methadone for "treatment" of their addiction, it's sad to realize that most, if not all of them, could have a chance to be drug free if, instead of choosing a second, equally dangerous addiction, they had a chance at medical drug detox to get safely off heroin, and a thorough drug rehab program to recover their lives.


Rod MacTaggart is a freelance writer that contributes articles on health.

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