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Headlines are meant to grab your attention. So last week when this headline was heard and seen across the United States: Methadone painkiller overdoses kill about 5,000 patients a year, CDC warns, people started talking about methadone. It is a startling headline, but the facts of this report are even more interesting.
When you think of methadone, do you think of it only as a maintenance treatment program for those addicted to opioids? Or do you understand that many doctors prescribe methadone to patients who suffer from chronic pain?
The report that brought about the startling headline was published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that reviews data from the National Vital Statistics System and the Drug Enforcement Administration. According to the New York Times article:
"The rate of overdose deaths involving methadone in 2009 was more than five times the rate in 1999, they found. The drug accounted for 1.7 percent of the 257 million prescriptions written in 2009 for opioid pain relievers, but it was involved in 31.4 percent of overdose deaths and more than 40 percent of the deaths attributable to use of a single drug."But as Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, clarifies these results are not talking about methadone maintenance treatment programs, but overdose deaths by those using methadone for chronic pain.
Why do doctors prescribe methadone for chronic pain? Two facts stand out:
- Methadone pills are less expensive than opiate drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone.
- Some health insurance companies list methadone as the preferred pain killer of choice.