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Methadone, Pain Management & Overdose

November 29, 2017
Updated statistics show opioid-related overdose deaths shifting away from methadone and toward heroin.

In 2015, PPM published “Methadone for Pain Management,”1 which cited that one-third of opioid-implicated deaths were caused by methadone. In the context of the country’s ongoing focus on opioid prescribing, use, and misuse, the author re-examined this statistic.

Molecular Structure of MethadoneOpioid-related deaths due to methadone specifically have been reduced to 10% of cases, according to CDC 2017 data.

In the original article, the following statement was reported: “Although methadone has become increasingly popular for the treatment of  pain, concerns regarding its safety also are on the rise. In fact, although methadone accounts for less than 5% of prescription opioids, it  has been linked to one-third of opioid-related deaths.” The original statistic was based on a 2011 publication of findings from a panel of pain medicine experts.2

Since that time, the opioid crisis in the United States has escalated, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are actively evaluating the evolving situation.3 According to its latest report, which was published in August 2017 but is based on 2015 data, the CDC attributed a total of 33,091 US deaths to opioid overdose.3,4 Although many of these deaths may be related to more than one medication, there appears to be a shift in the pattern of opioid-related overdose deaths, with heroin implicated in nearly 40% (12,989) of cases and methadone attributed to approximately 10% (3,301) of cases—as opposed to one-third.4 In comparison, cocaine was implicated in approximately 17% (6,784) of drug-overdose deaths.

The data further demonstrates that healthcare providers have become increasingly cautious with prescribing opioids. Between 2006 and 2016, for example, annual prescribing rates per 100 persons decreased by about 8% for opioids and by nearly 47% for high-dosage opioids.4

Last updated on: December 1, 2017