While methadone is prescribed by doctors, nurse practitioners, and osteopaths as a painkiller to treat conditions resulting in severe pain, the drug is implicated in two times as many painkiller-related fatalities as the drugs Vicodin and OxyContin. According to Dr. Howard Heit, a pain medication specialist, many patients that take the drug as prescribed can suffer adverse side effects, including death.
Federal regulators admit that it took them awhile to recognize physician ignorance related to the drug and the dangers that could arise when doctors prescribe methadone as a painkiller. The government cites “imperfect” systems as a cause for the oversight. As late as 2006, the Food and Drug Administration-approved package insert was still recommending a dangerously high dosage.
The number of deaths citing methadone as a contributing cause between 1999 and 2005 was 4,462, which federal officials say may be an underestimation. In 2007, the state of Florida alone reported 785 deaths caused by methadone. Between 1998 and 2006, the number of methadone prescriptions grew by 700%, says the DEA.
One main problem is that many doctors don’t fully comprehend the way methadone metabolizes and how patients can have different responses.
Causes for error include:
• Prescribing too much methadone too quickly.
• Failing to warn patients that it is dangerous to mix methadone with sedatives or alcohol.
• Failing to follow up during the first week a patient is taking the drug.
The FDA is considering mandating that doctors take classes that focus on prescribing narcotics.
Federal regulators and drug manufacturers are supposed to make sure that any medications that are recommended, manufactured, and placed out in the market are safe for use. Allowing a dangerous drug into the marketplace or failing to warn of a drug’s potential side effects can be grounds for a drug litigation lawsuit if someone gets sick or dies as a result. A doctor may be subject to a medical malpractice lawsuit if he or she prescribes a drug to a patient but fails to warn of dangers or doesn’t prescribe the correct dosage.
Methadone is successful as painkiller, but can be deadly, Boston.com, August 17, 2008
Painkiller more available for abuse, USA Today, July 13, 2008
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