June 28, 2017  Last Update: December 21, 2016, 11:10 pm

Are 20% of Methadone Patients Still Using?

Methadone clinic dose, via pai.wv.gov

A new study out of Canada suggests nearly 20% of methadone maintenance patients are simultaneously taking additional opioid medications prescribed by physicians.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Ontario, Canada released the study.

Methadone, a long-lasting replacement opioid, has proven to be an effective treatment for opioid dependency. However, these data showing methadone use with simultaneous opioid use are upsetting some medical professionals.

“It is concerning when large quantities of these types of opioids are combined with methadone therapy, as it can lead to overdose or fatal consequences,” says Dr. Paul Kurdyak, head of CAMH’s Emergency Crisis Services and Research.

Opioid prescriptions, opioid-related overdoses, and deaths have increased dramatically in recent years. In 2009, ICES found that narcotic painkiller-related deaths had doubled in almost two decades.

Researchers from the two organizations used the Ontario Drug Benefit database to document opioid prescription drug patterns among 18,759 patients who received methadone maintenance therapy. Of that sample, 18 percent of patients also received prescriptions for more than a week’s supply of other opiates.

“People taking methadone should not be taking other opioids for extended periods. The fact that we’re seeing this happen in nearly one in five cases, coupled with the observation that multiple doctors and pharmacies are often involved suggests that, in some instances at least, patients in methadone treatment programs are deceiving doctors to obtain other opioids,” says Dr. David Juurlink, co-author of the study and ICES scientist.

Since the study was carried out, Ontario has enacted the “Narcotics Safety and Awareness Act”. Canada is trying to move towards monitoring of prescription drugs while recognizing the active black market sales that fuel otherwise undocumented consumption.

Juurlink says that a prescription monitoring system that allows pharmacies to communicate in real time could have a significant impact.

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