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Medical News & Perspectives
August 22/29, 2012

Methadone Overdose Deaths Rise With Increased Prescribing for Pain

JAMA. 2012;308(8):749-750. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.9289

Methadone was involved in more than 30% of overdose deaths linked to the use of prescription painkillers in 2009, despite the drug making up only about 2% of painkiller prescriptions that year, according to a report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Methadone, which has been used successfully for more than 40 years as a treatment for heroin addiction, has been widely prescribed over the past decade for the treatment of pain. In 2009, more than 4 million prescriptions for methadone were written for pain patients, according to the CDC. As the number of methadone prescriptions for pain has increased, methadone overdose deaths have increased, noted CDC director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, in a press briefing. There are 5000 such overdose fatalities each year, more than the number of heroin and cocaine overdoses combined, he said.