taken froM newobserver.com
Mandy Locke, Staff Writer
Methadone -- a drug best known for helping wean addicts off heroin -- is now the leading killer in North Carolina among those who accidentally overdose.
Seven years ago, medical examiners rarely found the prescription drug in the blood or urine of those who overdosed. In 2002, the number of overdoses involving methadone spiked to 175 statewide, and it has been climbing ever since. It's now to blame for one-third of all fatal drug overdoses -- topping cocaine, heroin and all other prescription drugs. All told, methadone caused or contributed to 817 deaths in the state from 2000 through 2004.
The rise in methadone overdoses has jolted public health officials, sobered physicians who prescribe the medicine and robbed dozens of parents of their children. Among teenagers, methadone has proved especially lethal.
Health officials blame the surge in deaths on methadone's new popularity for long-term treatment of severe, chronic pain. With more methadone out there, some ends up in the wrong hands.
To inexperienced users, methadone is a killer. It's potent and long-lasting. Popping just a few will slow breathing to a stop. "The potential for error is so great," said Kay Sanford, an epidemiologist with the state Division of Public Health. "If you take an extra tablet of OxyContin, you feel an incredible buzz. There are no warning signs with methadone."