Almost 400 people in Minnesota have died of methadone-involved overdoses since 2001, according to the Duluth News Tribune. From 2006 to 2010, the number of methadone deaths almost equaled those who died from firearms, the newspaper reports.
According to data from the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS), during the past four years, patients discharged from the state’s methadone clinics have had higher rates of relapse and of being jailed after discharge, compared with patients in the state’s other programs to treat chemical dependency.
Duluth Police Sergeant Rodney Wilson, who works with the Lake Superior Drug and Gang Task Force, said many methadone users are also using other drugs. “What we’re seeing is that people who use methadone to treat opiate addiction are consistently using street drugs to supplement that addiction as well,” he said.
Only 5 percent of patients successfully complete methadone treatment in Minnesota, the article notes. DHS officials told the newspaper it is difficult to compare treatments for various kinds of chemical dependency. They said they have not done studies on methadone treatment in Minnesota. “What we rely on are national studies that have shown that methadone therapy is the best practice in health care,” said Maureen O’Connell, the DHS Assistant Commissioner for Chemical and Mental Health Services.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), methadone has long been used safely and effectively to treat drug addiction. “It has been prescribed increasingly as a painkiller because it is a generic drug that can provide long-lasting pain relief. But as methadone’s use for pain has increased, so has nonmedical use of the drug and the number of overdoses,” the CDC notes.
More than 15,500 people die every year of prescription drug overdoses, and nearly one-third of those overdoses involve methadone. Researchers found that while methadone accounts for only 2 percent of painkiller prescriptions in the United States, it is involved in more than 30 percent of prescription painkiller overdose deaths.