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Health pros to get methadone briefs

Pharmacists statewide will soon get information from the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy that will help them explain to patients the need to be careful with the pain drug methadone.

Also, the West Virginia Medical Association plans to educate doctors about the risks involved in prescribing methadone, and the state Division of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse is educating addiction counselors about methadone.

A Gazette investigation published last week found that methadone is helping to kill more people nationwide than any other prescription narcotic, and West Virginia?s methadone death rate is the nation?s highest.

?We?re going to try to educate the pharmacists about the severity of this issue,? said William Douglass, executive director and general counsel to the Board of Pharmacy.

Since 2003, the board has collected data on prescriptions dispensed in West Virginia. Between 2003 and 2005, the number of prescriptions for methadone rose 26 percent, from 22,246 prescriptions to 27,976.

Prescriptions for the strongest formulation, 40 milligrams, more than tripled, Douglass said.

The prescription database tracks only methadone prescribed by doctors for pain. Its figures do not include methadone that is sold by clinics to treat drug addiction.

West Virginia?s addiction counselors are seeing a flood of people hooked on prescription narcotics that shows no sign of abating, said Steve Mason, director of the state Division of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.

Mason ranks prescription drugs behind only alcohol and marijuana as the most common substances being abused in West Virginia today.

?Methadone is a good drug when it is used legitimately for pain. Unfortunately, the addict can be very creative and will mix methadone with other drugs to try to get high,? Mason said.

The division is spending $100,000 on a prescription drug awareness campaign, Mason said. The money comes from a settlement Attorney General Darrell McGraw received from the makers of OxyContin, another prescription painkiller.

The money will educate addiction counselors about methadone and other dangerous prescription drugs, he said. Counselors will educate addicts about how to stay safe if they choose to continue to abuse drugs.

Mason said doctors and pharmacists also need more training about the safe prescribing of methadone.

?If we had better education of physicians in medical schools around addiction, if they could be more aware of the dangers of what they?re prescribing, that would help,? Mason said. ?Doctors are trying to relieve pain and that?s their job. But there are some physicians who prescribe too much.?

The West Virginia Medical Association plans to educate doctors about methadone?s risks, said spokeswoman Helen Matheny.

The association will publish an article about methadone by West Virginia University professor Chris Terpening in its medical journal, she said.

The Appalachian Pain Foundation has been trying to educate local health providers for years on the proper use of painkillers, said its director, Skip Lineburg.

The group got its start with the help of drug manufacturers, but now relies solely upon federal grants, he said. It sponsors workshops for medical professionals about how to diagnose and safely treat pain.

The Appalachian Pain Foundation?s Web site is www.paincentral.com.

To read the rest of the series, The Killer Cure, go to www.wvgazette.com/section/Series/The Killer Cure.

To contact staff writers Scott Finn or Tara Tuckwiller, use e-mail or call 357-4323 or 348-5189.


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