Drug Addiction Help St. Louis: Study Sheds New Light on Prescription Drug Deaths

One of the major reasons why the FDA approved Purdue Pharma’s OxyContin was the company’s assertions that Oxy was less addictive than existing prescription painkillers. As we later found out, Purdue intentionally misled us – for which they were fined $ 634 million. However, by the time the judgment went through, addiction treatment centers were already filling up with people who had become addicted to the drug.

Doctors, in an effort to give patients a less dangerous painkiller, started prescribing more methadone. Since methadone has traditionally been used to help people get off heroin and other opiates – although, in practice, most people who tried to do so wound up parked on methadone indefinitely – it was a logical choice. As a result, the rate of methadone prescriptions increased by 1300% from 1997 through 2006.

But as the number of prescriptions went up, so did the rate of adverse events – negative reactions to the drug – which increased by 1800%. The number of methadone-related deaths also increased by a whopping 400%.

In fact, methadone killed far more people than heroin ever did: about half as many people were using methadone, but twice as many people were dying.

The interesting thing about the methadone-related deaths is that the majority of them, although not all by a long shot, involved people who were taking methadone along with one or more other drugs.

Since methadone stays in the system long after its painkilling effects have worn off, it’s easy for a patient to assume that the drug is out of their system and they need more. Sometimes they would take more methadone, but often they would take a different painkiller instead, looking for relief until their next prescribed dose of methadone.

This combination of drugs caused the heart and respiratory rate to decrease dangerously, sometimes resulting in a person simply dying in their sleep having had no warning whatsoever that they were in trouble.

But, as it turns out, there was more to the problem than met the eye: A new study conducted by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of Washington in Seattle is now shedding light on the problem. The findings, published in the March issue of Anesthesiology and Drug and Alcohol Dependence, revealed an interaction with other drugs that causes methadone to stay in the system even longer than its known time period.

Researchers hope this information will help change the prescribing guidelines so methadone can be taken safely. In the meantime, patients should read the study themselves and ensure their doctors are familiar with the information.

Patients should also be aware than methadone can be much more difficult to stop taking than other drugs. In fact, many addiction treatment centers refuse to take clients whose dosage is anything other than minimal.

If methadone can be avoided and, instead, other treatments can be used for pain, patients are far less likely to suffer ill effects, are not risking prescription drug addiction – which is almost a certainty with methadone and other opioid painkillers when taken for anything other than a short time – and, possibly, death.

There are plenty of doctors around who will help find non-drug treatment for pain. And there are plenty of therapies out there. To be safe, give them a try.

Gloria MacTaggart is a freelance writer that contributes articles on health.

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