Methadone, once used mainly in addiction treatment centers to replace heroin, now being given out by medical practicitiones for throbbing backs, joint injuries and a host of other severe pains, says the New York Times. The powerful pain reliever has helped millions; because it is also abused by thrill seekers and badly prescribed by doctors unfamiliar with its risks, methadone is the fastest growing cause of narcotic deaths. It is implicated in more than twice as many deaths as heroin, and is rivaling or surpassing the tolls of painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin.
The Food and Drug Administration is considering requiring doctors to take special classes on prescribing narcotics. Between 1999 and 2005, deaths that had methadone listed as a contributor increased nearly fivefold, to 4,462, a number that federal statisticians say is understated since states do not always specify the drugs in overdoses. From 1998 to 2006, the number of methadone prescriptions increased by 700 percent, according to Drug Enforcement Administration figures, flooding parts of the country where it had rarely been seen.