Policies discouraging the use of methadone for treating pain have apparently reduced the number of U.S. overdose deaths associated with the drug, according to findings in MMWR.
Federal researchers examined changes in methadone’s distribution and illegal diversion, as well as its role in opioid-overdose deaths, for the years 2002–2014. The analysis was limited to methadone used for pain treatments and excluded methadone used in addiction-treatment programs.
Over the study period, the researchers found “a strong positive association between rates of methadone distribution for use in pain treatment and methadone diversion and overdose deaths.” After peaking in 2006–2008, illegal diversion and deaths associated with methadone began significant declines that paralleled efforts by the FDA, state agencies, and professional guidelines to limit use of the drug for pain treatments.
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