Methadone deaths focus of UM study

May 18, 2004|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Most Marylanders who died from methadone-related overdoses between 2000 and 2002 were from outside Baltimore, and few were known to be in drug treatment programs at the time of their deaths, new research shows.

The study by the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland, College Park did not explain the reason for the recent increase in methadone deaths and could not determine whether the drug was more likely to be obtained legally or illegally.

But in reviewing the medical records of the 56 residents who died from 2000 through 2002, the researchers found that 16 percent were known to be in treatment programs in which they would be given methadone.

Twenty percent were known to have obtained the medication illegally, according to the study, while 5 percent had a prescription for methadone to treat pain. The source of how the methadone was obtained was not known in 59 percent of the cases.

Methadone sales jumped 167 percent in Maryland between 1998 and 2002, the report said. By contrast, admissions to methadone treatment programs climbed only 30 percent during the same period.

"We didn't see any indication that this was diverted methadone from treatment programs," said Erin Artigiani, deputy director of policy for the Center for Substance Abuse Research.

The number of deaths in Maryland caused by methadone - which is used to treat heroin addiction and to relieve chronic pain - more than tripled between 1998 and 2002, from 24 to 76. Methadone clinics, where addicts go to receive the medication, have drawn fierce opposition in some suburban communities.

Of the 173 residents who died between 1998 and 2002, 53 percent were from outside the city - in 17 of Maryland's counties. About two-thirds were white males, with an average age of 39.

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