For the past eight years Washington state has steered people with state-subsidized health care — Medicaid patients, injured workers, and state employees — to methadone, a narcotic with two notable characteristics, says the Seattle Times: The drug is cheap and unpredictable. The state highlights the former and downplays the latter, cutting its costs while refusing to own up to the consequences, finds a Times investigation that includes computerized analysis of death certificates, hospitalization records, and poverty data.
Methadone belongs to a class of narcotic painkillers, called opioids, that includes OxyContin, fentanyl and morphine. Within that group, methadone accounts for less than 10 percent of the drugs prescribed — but more than half of the deaths. Methadone works wonders for some patients, relieving chronic pain from throbbing backs to inflamed joints. But the drug’s unique properties make it unforgiving and sometimes lethal. Washington’s methadone death rate ranks among the nation’s highest. California, with more than five times the people, has fewer deaths