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Panel Issues Guidelines for Physicians Prescribing Methadone

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A panel of independent physicians has developed cardiac-safety recommendations for prescribing methadone, an anti-addiction opiate that also has become increasingly popular as a painkiller, Reuters reported Jan. 23.

Methadone can trigger an irregular heart rhythm that can lead to cardiac arrest, and the panel recommended that opioid treatment programs assess clients for their risk of developing heartbeat irregularities, and combine this assessment with routine medical care “without reducing access to vital addiction treatment services.”

The panel reviewed previous research, guidelines on addiction from the U.S. and other countries, information from regulatory agencies, and studies on physician awareness of adverse cardiac effects.

The recommendations included informing patients of the risk of heart-rhythm disturbances, asking about a history of heart problems, performing an ECG with frequent monitoring, if necessary, and considering other treatments if the results of the ECG indicated a high level of risk.

The recommendations appeared in the March 17, 2009 edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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