More than 15,500 people die every year of prescription drug overdoses, and nearly one-third of those overdoses involve the drug methadone, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While methadone accounts for only two percent of painkiller prescriptions in the United States, it is involved in more than 30 percent of prescription painkiller overdose deaths, the report found.
Methadone, which has been used for decades to treat drug addiction, has been increasingly prescribed in recent years to relieve pain. But the drug is riskier than other painkillers, because it can build up in a person’s body, leading to dangerously slowed breathing. Methadone can also be particularly risky when used with tranquilizers or other prescription painkillers.
More than 4 million methadone prescriptions were written for pain in 2009, despite warnings from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about the risks associated with the drug.