A new study reveals that almost 4,000 Americans died of an overdose of the prescription drug methadone in 2004, more than any other prescription narcotic.
Methadone was a factor in the death of 3,849 people that year, almost four times as many as died in drug-related deaths in 1999. It�s an increase of almost 900 deaths from the previous year.
Methadone was responsible for more deaths than any single prescription painkiller listed in the report, including oxycodone, fentanyl, morphine and hydrocodone.
At least four out of five of these deaths were ruled accidental by medical examiners.
West Virginia continues to lead the nation in methadone-related deaths per capita, with 99 deaths in 2004. The state also has the fastest growing rate of methadone overdoses.
The study was completed this month by the National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the federal Centers for Disease Control.
Earlier this year, the NCHS completed an analysis at the Gazette-Mail�s request of methadone overdose deaths. In June, the newspaper was the first media outlet in the nation to report the large increase in deaths tied to the painkiller.
Methadone often is confused with �meth,� or methamphetamine, a stimulant commonly cooked in clandestine labs and sold illegally. Methadone is a completely different � and legal � drug.
Methadone once was given mostly to heroin addicts to ease their cravings for the illegal drug. Now, methadone is being prescribed by more doctors to treat pain. Insurance companies favor it because it is cheap and effective.
However, it also can be uniquely dangerous. Methadone may take a while to make its effects felt. Patients may take an extra dose, thinking the first one isn�t working, and an overdose can result.
Reactions to methadone vary dramatically. A dose that is therapeutic for one person might kill someone else.