About 10 years ago, England was experiencing its own epidemic of overdose deaths involving methadone.
English health officials tackled the problem head-on and cut in half the number of methadone overdoses in seven years.
In 1997, methadone helped to kill 421 people in England and Wales, according to the British Office for National Statistics. By 2004, that number had fallen to 200.
In 2000, in a national report on �Reducing Drug Related Deaths,� methadone was the only drug to merit a whole chapter. �If allowed to continue unchecked, the number of methadone-related deaths will threaten to discredit an otherwise good treatment,� the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs report said.
The British government developed a multi-pronged strategy to fight drug overdose deaths. Officials there:
People cannot fight a problem unless they confront it head on, British Health Minister Hazel Blears said in a 2001 press release.
�We are determined to make a real difference by focusing our initial work on overdoses from heroin and methadone,� she said.
Sue Engrebregsten also is trying to educate parents and teenagers about the dangers of methadone.
Three months ago, she created a Web site to tell the story of her son�s death. She posted photos of her son from the last few months of his life: sitting beside his dad at Christmas, posing with his older brother Eric and the family�s two dogs, hugging his grandma on the porch.
�It�s been devastating,� she said. �People ask me how many kids I have, and when I have to tell them I lost my younger son ... right away they�re going to jump to conclusions � he�s some drug addict. I�m constantly defending him to people who didn�t know him. I don�t have to do that to the people who did.
�We never ever thought in a million years that something like this would happen in our family.�
Nineteen months after Josh Engebregtsen�s death, the boy who brought the methadone to the fair was sent to jail for supplying it to him, Sue Engebregtsen said.
The boy�s mother is dead; she overdosed on methadone on what would have been Josh Engebregtsen�s 18th birthday.
To contact staff writers Scott Finn or Tara Tuckwiller, use e-mail or call 357-4323 or 348-5189.
What you can do
Methadone is an effective painkiller and treatment for drug addiction. To avoid accidental overdose, experts advise caution:
Never take methadone unless it is prescribed to you. Even people who are accustomed to other opioids (OxyContin, fentanyl, etc.) can die if they take methadone, which behaves differently in the body.
If methadone is prescribed to you, make sure your physician is properly trained and experienced in methadone therapy. The doctor must be familiar with methadone�s unique properties and how it interacts with other drugs.
�Start low and go slow� is the rule for this long-acting drug. Do not take more doses than prescribed. Even after methadone�s effects seem to have worn off, it is still depressing the respiratory system.
Watch out for other drugs. Several drugs can intensify methadone�s effects and cause overdose. Before you take methadone, ask a doctor experienced with the drug whether your other prescriptions are safe to take with it.
Lock up your methadone. If consumed by children or other family members, or stolen and sold on the street, it can kill.