It seems that people are finally getting the point about methadone being a very dangerous drug. Although it's been prescribed as a painkiller for decades, prescriptions have increased by 715 percent in the last few years - and an increase in methadone-related deaths and the number of people needing drug detox and drug rehab for addiction have followed.
Why the sudden increase in methadone prescriptions? When Purdue Pharma developed OxyContin, they were allegedly filling a need - OxyContin was supposed to be less addictive and prone to abuse than the painkillers already on the market. However, once the medical community saw that Purdue was lying, more doctors starting prescribing methadone as a painkiller in place of OxyContin.
Although not the painkiller of choice, methadone moved into a more prominent position. Hospitals, doctors and pharmacies started buying more of it - manufacturers shipped 6.6 million grams of methadone in 2006, up from 1.9 million in 2001 - and the death toll started to climb.
According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, fewer than 1000 people died of methadone overdose in 1999, 3849 died of overdose in 2004 and, although the final figures aren't in yet, the records show that the trend continued in 2006. How many of these lives could have been saved by drug detox?
Deaths from methadone are also higher than those involving other opiate or opioid prescription drugs - morphine, OxyContin and Vicodin, for example - only increased by 90 percent over the same period of time. In fact, the death toll from heroin is less than half that of methadone even though there are more people taking heroin.
Methadone is also a lot less expensive than other painkillers - which doesn't make Big Pharma happy, but does add to the drug's appeal.
Has the prescription painkiller arsenal been exhausted? We went through a host of painkillers prior to OxyContin and they were too dangerous. Then we went through OxyContin and it was too dangerous. Now we're using methadone and it, too, is proving too dangerous.
Are we epitomizing Einstein's definition of stupidity - doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? Perhaps the best move is drug detox program and possibly drug rehab for all of those who've become addicted to or dependent on prescription painkillers - then get busy finding some drug-free alternatives that won't kill us.
Gloria is a freelance writer who contributes articles on health