The prescription opioid methadone used for pain has been identified as an important contributor to the rise in opioid-related overdose deaths. Federal and state action to reduce the use of methadone for pain increased in 2006, including through warnings from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the use of methadone for pain, and efforts to remove methadone from insurers’ preferred drug lists.
A new study, "Trends in Methadone Sales for Pain Treatment, Diversion, and Overdose Deaths, United States, 2002-2014" published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) evaluates the effect of these actions on rates of methadone sales, diversion, and overdose deaths between 2002 and 2014. The study found a strong positive association between rates of sales of methadone for pain treatment and methadone diversion and overdose deaths. Findings in the study show:
- As the use of methadone for pain declined, there was a corresponding decrease in methadone-related overdose deaths and methadone diversion.
- The declines found correspond with national and state actions targeting reduced use of methadone for pain.
- Across sex, race/ethnicity, region, and most ages, the methadone overdose death rate peaked between 2005 and 2007 and declined in following years.
- Despite overall trends, there was no significant change in the overdose death rates among people 65 years or older, and among 55-64 year olds, the rate of methadone overdose deaths continued to increase through 2014.
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