Office of Drug Control Policy

Press Release Date:  Monday, May 21, 2007  
Contact Information:  Stacy Floden
502) 564-8220

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Overdose due to methadone is on the rise in Kentucky.  The 2006 Office of the State Medical Examiner’s Annual Report indicates 197 deaths related to the misuse of the prescription drug methadone.  Methadone was the prescription drug that was most frequently detected in the blood of fatal overdose victims. 

The numbers reflect the total cases undergoing autopsies by the Kentucky Medical Examiner’s Office in 2006.  Methadone was detected in 41% of the 484 overdose death cases in Kentucky.

“Prescription drug overdoses in general, and methadone overdoses in particular, claim a large number of lives each year in the Commonwealth.  These tragic deaths of Kentuckians are unnecessary and preventable,” said Kentucky Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Tracey Corey.  “Regional and local medical societies and health departments may help reduce this tragic loss of life by making patients and physicians aware of the possibility of accidental fatal overdose associated with the use of prescription narcotics, especially when used in concert with other prescription drugs.” 

Figures from the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting (KASPER) system, supplied by Dave Sallengs, R.Ph., branch manager of Drug Enforcement and Professional Practices in the Office of the Inspector General of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, show neither the number of prescriptions filled in Kentucky for methadone, nor the number of dosage units prescribed have changed significantly from 2003 through 2006. 

“Since methadone has a shorter duration in the body than other controlled substance pain relievers the daily dosage is higher,” stated Sallengs.  “This could lead to a perception by patients that they could use increased dosages without concern about overdose.  More patient education by prescribers and pharmacists when methadone is prescribed could help diminish the incidence of these overdoses.”

“It is important to get the message out and warn the citizens of Kentucky about the misuse of Methadone. I urge all members of law enforcement, hospitals, poison control centers, and emergency medical technicians to continue educating themselves on the effects and symptoms associated with methadone abuse,” said Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy Executive Director Laurie Dudgeon.  “The seriousness of methadone overdose and its possible consequences cannot be overemphasized.”

A recent federal government study found that nationwide methadone-related deaths climbed to more than 3,800 in 2004 from about 780 in 1999. 

Facts on methadone

* Methadone is commonly prescribed for treating patients suffering from chronic pain and medical professionals describe methadone as an effective tool for pain management. 
* Methadone used to treat pain can be prescribed by a medical professional licensed to prescribe controlled substances in Kentucky.
* Prescriptions written for methadone are reported by dispensers to the KASPER system as well as prescriptions filled for methadone by pharmacies.
* In Kentucky, methadone is also used to treat the addiction of narcotics/opiates by clinics licensed to do so.  It is the most used drug for the treatment and maintenance of narcotic addiction.

ODCP plans to hold seminars to educate the general public as well as health care professionals on methadone usage.