CDC: One-Third of Prescription Painkiller Overdose Deaths Caused by Methadone

Methadone causes 30 percent of prescription painkiller overdose deaths, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some doctors are now prescribing methadone to treat chronic problems such as back pain, which is making the drug more widely available.

According to the CDC, methadone and other extended-release opioids should not be used for mild pain, acute pain, “breakthrough” pain, or on an as-needed basis. “For chronic noncancer pain, methadone should not be considered a drug of first choice by prescribers or insurers,” the report noted.

In an effort to cut down on abuse of drugs meant to treat addiction, Titan Pharmaceuticals plans to file for Food and Drug Administration approval for an implant of buprenorphine, which eases withdrawal symptoms. The Wall Street Journal reports that buprenorphine currently comes in pills or strips, which can be used to get high, or used more heavily than they should be to relieve symptoms of withdrawal. The pills are crushed and then injected or snorted.

The implant, called Probuphine, is inserted just under the skin in the upper arm. It releases continuous, small amounts of the drug over six months. “You cannot easily remove these implants from the arm,” Titan Senior Vice President Katherine L. Beebe told the newspaper.

A study conducted by Titan and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2010 found that among people with opioid dependence, users of Probuphine had significantly less illicit opioid use, and fewer symptoms of withdrawal and craving, compared with those who received a placebo implant.

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