Methadone: risky pain relief

Methadone, a favorite replacement option for heroin in addiction treatment facilities, is also great at relieving pain. Unfortunately, that pain relief appears to come with an increased risk of death as well.

The medication, which is a synthetic form of opium, is a very effective pain reliever. However, because it is cheap and effective, clinicians are prescribing it widely, for everything from joint pain to back pain. Due to both abuse and prescriptions by those who don't know enough about its risks, the risk of death by methadone is now exceeding that of heroin by double, and is in the running with Vicodin and OxyContin.  

"This is a wonderful medicine used appropriately, but an unforgiving medicine used inappropriately," said Dr. Howard A. Heit, a pain specialist at Georgetown University, in a quote by the New York Times.

In fact, from 1999 to 2005, the number of individuals who had a cause of death related to methadone increased fivefold, while the number of prescriptions for the medication increased by 700 percent from 1998 to 2006.

Clinicians unfamiliar with the drugs slow metabolism, as well as the dangers of using sedatives or alcohol when taking methadone, have been prescribing it more casually and many are unaware of how difficult the medication is to monitor.

- read the New York Times story
- see more in the Chicago Tribune 
- get the United Press International article
- find out what All Headline News said

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