Educating Illinoisans on the Safe Use of Methadone

IDHS's Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse (DASA) Educates Illinoisans on the Safe Use of Methadone During National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month

DASA has started a campaign to ensure that Illinoisans are aware of the pitfalls of mixing drugs

In response to the escalating number of deaths related to the improper use of the prescription drug, methadone, the Illinois Department of Human Services' (IDHS) Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse is urging Illinois consumers, health care professionals and the opiate treatment clinics to be well informed on the safe use of methadone. IDHS is highlighting this issue during September, which is National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month.

Methadone is a prescription drug that provides relief to patients who do not respond to non-narcotic pain medications and to individuals who suffer from addiction and dependence on heroin and narcotic pain medicines. Although methadone has been used for decades to reduce drug withdrawal symptoms, recently it has been increasingly prescribed as a pain reliever for patients whose moderate-to-severe chronic pain does not respond to non-narcotic pain medications, which has led to over prescribing and inappropriate prescribing.

"During Recovery Month, we want to ensure that people understand the negative effects of prescription drugs if taken improperly. It is vital that patients know and share their complete health history with their doctors in order to best make a determination of care," said IDHS Secretary Carol L. Adams Ph.D. "We also want to ensure that healthcare professionals are appropriately following the new prescribing guidelines provided by the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA)."

According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), between 1999 and 2005 there was a 467 percent increase nationally in poisoning deaths where methadone was mentioned as a factor. Although Illinois had one of the lowest methadone-related mortality rates, 81 lives were lost last year due to methadone poisoning.

The risk of methadone overdose is partly due to the way the drug metabolizes in the body. People who take methadone normally feel relief within four to eight hours. However, unlike other narcotic pain relievers a single dose of methadone can remain in the body anywhere from eight to 59 hours. As a result, the drug builds up to toxic levels if it is taken too often, in too high an amount, or with other medications.

"When used as a treatment for narcotics addiction, Methadone must be dispensed by a clinic that is certified by SAMHSA, registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA),and licensed by DASA" said Theodora Binion-Taylor, Director of DASA. "Our concern is with the recent use of methadone as a painkiller, which can be prescribed by any healthcare professional registered to prescribe controlled substances, and can be dispensed by any licensed and DEA-registered pharmacy."

To increase awareness, DASA has held trainings for physicians and healthcare professionals who are prescribing opiates and other drugs. In addition, the department has teamed up with the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT), to host risk management webinars and workshops on effective strategies for outpatient methadone treatment and guidelines as well as liability prevention.