By: MARY ELLEN SCHNEIDER, Clinical Psychiatry News Digital Network
Methadone was involved in more than 30% of opioid-related deaths in the United States in 2009, second only to the painkiller oxycodone, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The high rate of overdose deaths from methadone occurred even though the drug accounted for less than 2% of opioid prescriptions in 2009. Part of problem is that methadone is more likely than other opioids to cause an overdose, according to the CDC. For example, a toxic level of methadone can accumulate in the body, leading to severe respiratory depression. Methadone can also cause major disturbances in cardiac rhythm.
"It acts differently in different people’s bodies," Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the CDC, said during a press conference to announce the new data. "So it’s possible that someone can take just a small amount, but it may last for days in their system and cause serious health problems."
Dr. Frieden noted that the increase in overdose deaths from methadone is primarily due to increased use of the drug in pain treatment, not as part of addiction treatment programs.