Prescription drug overdoses have continued to rise all over the country. There is no shortage of news stories about the subject and many plans of attack that have been put into place by officials to curb the problem. But what if one of the worst issues with prescription painkillers has been sneaking under the radar? The majority of concern for abuse and danger in prescription painkillers has been put on oxycodone, hydrococone and morphine. These drugs are incredibly dangerous when they are abused. But Doctors and health care professionals say they do not compare to the risks that methadone pose.
Methadone is commonly known for being prescribed as a safe and effective medication to treat heroin addiction since the 1950's. It is also prescribed for pain. The major problem is the fact that it kills about 5,000 people every year, six times as many as in the late 1990's, when the medication was prescribed exclusively for use in hospitals and addiction clinics where it is tightly controlled. It is four times as likely to cause an overdose death as oxycodone and more than twice as likely as morphine. It is also known to be the most addictive opiate and the hardest to stop taking because of the very long half-life.
The scary thing is that in 33 states, it is easy for doctors to prescribe the medication to Medicaid patients with no questions asked. This is the case because in these states, methadone is listed as a “preferred drug,” meaning Medicaid will cover its costs without any red tape or questions. If a drug is not on a preferred list, doctors must explain why they are prescribing it before the prescription can be filled and paid for by Medicaid.
“We’ve given so much attention to oxycodone and heroin, I fear we are overlooking what is possibly an even more dangerous drug,” said Democratic state Del. Don Perdue of West Virginia, a pharmacist who has made curbing opiate drug abuse his top priority.
Best known as a medication to help fight addiction, methadone represents only 2 percent of all opiate painkillers prescribed in the U.S. But it is involved in one out of every three accidental overdose deaths, according to data gathered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Unlike other narcotic pain medications, methadone depresses heart and lung activity long after its pain relief has stopped. Pain relief lasts four to eight hours, while potentially harmful respiratory depression can last up to 59 hours, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Because the drug’s effects are unpredictable, it should only be prescribed by experienced doctors, and only for patients who have tried other opiate pain medications without success. Most importantly you should see your prescribing Doctor regularly as well as only take the medication exactly how you are prescribed.