CDC: Methadone prescriptions, painkiller overdose deaths up

Doctors are obligated to provide quality patient care, including proper recommendations for prescription medications and dosages. Illinois residents rely on health care professionals to preventmedication errors, such as prescribing the wrong drug or dose of a drug, that could harm or kill patients. It is also part of a physician’s duty to caution patients about possible drug complications, side effects and other dangers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released disturbing statistics concerning the prescription drug methadone that all physicians in Will County and throughout the entire U.S. should be informed about. The medication is a strong painkiller used frequently to help heroin addicts overcome withdrawal symptoms or to treat those with chronic pain. According to the CDC, the drug is the cause of over 30 percent of all fatal pain-reliever overdoses.

Government researchers reported that the death rates from methadone overdoses have increased by six times from 1999 to 2009. The CDC discovered that 40 percent of overdose deaths from a single painkiller involved methadone, twice the number of deaths as any other prescription pain reliever.

The director of the CDC wrote that a growing concern about the number of fatal methadone-caused overdoses should encourage doctors to prescribe other painkillers that are considered to be safer alternatives for patients who suffer from chronic pain. The director was critical of physicians who lacked pain management training and prescribed methadone for unproven, inappropriate uses like long-term back pain.

Based on its findings, the CDC wants insurance companies to remove methadone from preferred lists of pain-relieving drugs. The government health agency is recommending that doctors test patients for mental health and substance abuse before writing methadone prescriptions as well. The CDC would also like to see physicians do a better job of protecting patients from unsafe methadone use through education about overdose prevention. According to the CDC, these measures could help to significantly reduce the number of methadone overdoses amongst U.S. patients.

Source: CBS News, “Methadone to blame for one-third of U.S. prescription painkiller deaths, CDC says,” Ryan Jaslow, July 4, 2012

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