RENO, Nev. (KRNV & MyNews4.com) -The accidental overdose death of Reno mayoral candidate Tony Perri is highlighting the dangers of methadone. Experts say methadone is used as a pain reliever, but more commonly it's used to reduce withdrawal symptoms in people addicted to heroin or other drugs.
"With methadone, you can keep an addict out of withdrawal because it's occupying that receptor sight, but at the same time, you don't get the same rush that you get with heroin or some of these other drugs," said Nevada state board of pharmacy executive secretary Larry Pinson.
Pinson believes one of the reasons methadone is responsible for overdose deaths is because it's cheaper than other opiate drugs.
"It causes many insurance companies or healthcare providers to make it more attractive to physicians to use methadone," said Pinson.
According to the centers for disease control and prevention methadone contributed to nearly 1 in 3 prescription painkiller deaths in 2009. The CDC also reports about 5000 people die every year of overdoses related to methadone and six times as many people died of methadone overdoses in 2009 than a decade before. And possibly the most shocking number, only 2 percent of painkiller prescriptions in the United States are for methadone. The CDC says the drug continues to be an issue and says it may help if prescribers follow FDA guidelines better.
"Start low, in low dose, and only increase the dosage slowly,” said medical epidemiologist of the CDC Injury Center Dr. Len Paulozzi. “So a great deal could be accomplished just from using those guidelines to prescribe methadone."
And Pinson says because you can't get a rush from taking methadone, that may also cause people to overdose.
"And so many people will think, you know maybe I didn't take enough, so maybe I will take some more, inadvertently overdosing themselves trying to get to that rush that's never going to happen,” said Pinson. “And I think that's the bottom line for many of these deaths.”
Pinson says methadone is easier to get on the streets today than it used to be, which may also contribute to the problem.