Don't Blame Clinics for Methadone ODs, SAMHSA Says

Methadone has been involved in a growing number of drug overdoses, but diversion from methadone clinics is not the source of the problem, according to officials at the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Rather, most of the methadone associated with overdoses originated with physicians prescribing the drug as a painkiller. “While deaths involving methadone increased, experiences in several states show that addiction treatment programs are not the culprits,” said H. Westley Clark, M.D., J.D., M.P.H., director of SAMHSA's Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.

Clark's comments reflected the findings of an expert policy panel, convened in 2003, which recently stated in Methadone-Associated Mortality, Report of a National Assessment that “although the data remain incomplete … methadone tablets and/or diskettes distributed through channels other than opioid treatment programs most likely are the central factor in methadone-associated mortality.”

The panel noted that most methadone involved in overdoses was taken in tablet or diskette form, whereas most methadone clinics distribute the drug in liquid form. The experts suggested that most overdoses were the result of excessive use for purposes of intoxication, deadly combination with alcohol or other drugs, or accidentally building up toxic levels of the drug during the first few days of treatment, before tolerance is developed.

The Associated Press reported April 9 that the state of West Virginia, concerned over rising methadone overdoses, has put a moratorium on opening new methadone clinics. But a SAMHSA official said that a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on methadone overdoses in North Carolina found that 85 percent involved drugs from pharmacies, not methadone clinics.

Phil Herschman, president of the outpatient division of CRC Health Group, which runs seven methadone clinics in West Virginia, said his programs are being wrongly blamed for problems associated with the drug. “It's a battle we struggle with on a regular basis,” he said. “We're more public and a more obvious target.”

Some state lawmakers, however, said the moratorium is not just about overdoses but whether methadone clinics are doing enough to wean patients off the drug. Residents in Huntington, W. Va., also complain that a methadone program there has become a magnet for panhandling and prostitution, which clinic officials dispute. 

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    January 26, 2013 at 8:34 AM

    Your answer to the question about propaganda surrounding methadone overdoses related to methadone clinic patients giving out pills is incorrect. My son died from a pill he thought was for pain that someone had suggested he take for a 6 hour tattoo appt when my son talked about how he was not looking forward to the appt. The person was a methadone patient. The following week this person called my deceased son’s cell phone and his twin brother answered he asked where my son was and he told him that he died after taking that pill he offered him. He said sorry and in the next sentence he asked if his brother knew anyone else who wanted these pills. To think that these deadly pills can be trusted to a recovering drug addict, that is not serious about their recovery that will do anything for his next fix is the most idiotic decision I have heard in a long time. In my grief recovery group every time I met a mother or loved that one that suffered the loss due to methadone overdose it has to do with them getting the pill from a methadone clinic patient that sells it. But false reports like this pollute the world with lies while the statistics on methadone overdoses are continuing to rise and I would not doubt the pharmaceutical companies are probably paying someone to put out all this propaganda. The methadone clinics want to offer these pills to their patients so more patients will say yes and they will get more money from the government. Then they cloud the truth of why all these people are dying from methadone overdoses. The “Methadone-Associated Mortality, Report of a National Assessment” needs to completed and please do not allow the expert to be a person who works for the major manufacturer methadone. There are so many people out there that want to protect their cash cow that they do not care how many people die in the process, oh well they were probably drug addicts anyway expendable. Some of us wont buy in!

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