Maryland health officials are examining why the state has seen a tenfold increase in the number of deaths from methadone overdoses over the past six years. “We’re paying attention to it,” said Peter F. Luongo, director of the state’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration. Methadone, which is generally used to treat individuals addicted to heroin, is also being used more as a painkiller.
According to figures from the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, 29 Maryland residents died from methadone intoxication through November, compared with just three such deaths in 1998. Health officials said it is unlikely that the problem is stemming from the 45 drug-treatment clinics that dispense methadone. “We have had no diversion from any methadone clinics that would cause us to have any concerns that drug treatment is a source of these deaths,’ Luongo said.
Health officials said that more in-depth research would determine whether those who died were enrolled in addiction-treatment programs, obtained methadone through a prescription for pain treatment, or obtained the drug illegally and misused it.
A study being conducted by the Centre for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland on overdose deaths in the state should be completed early this year. “We’re going back and doing a more n review to see if we could learn more about these people who died from methadone intoxication to shed some light on why this trend developed,” said Erin Artigiani, coordinator of the state’s Drug Early Warning System and a deputy director with the Center for Substance Abuse Research. Other states seeing an increase in methadone overdose deaths are Maine, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida.