Methadone accounts for only 2 percent of painkiller prescriptions in the United States – but the drug is behind more than 30 percent of prescription painkiller overdose deaths, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday.
Methadone is commonly known for treating withdrawal symptoms from heroin addiction, but the drug is also prescribed for pain. Health officials say most of the overdose deaths are people who take it for pain – not heroin or drug addicts.
According to the CDC, methadone carries more risks than other painkillers because levels build up in the body and may interfere with a person’s normal heart rhythm or breathing.
For the CDC’s latest Vital Signs report, researchers analyzed rates of fatal methadone overdoses and sales from 1999 to 2010, and compared with 2009 data for other major opioid overdose rates from 13 states.