For years, methadone has been used to help curb heroin addiction but in recent years some communities have seen an increase in methadone abuse and overdoses. In Reno, Nev. the recent death of a 15-year-old high school student from a methadone overdose sparked concern among local residents, and now the Join Together Northern Nevada (JTNN) coalition has launched a methadone prevention campaign in the hopes of preventing further deaths.
Best known as a drug to block receptors in the brain that make people crave heroin, methadone has recently been increasingly prescribed as a pain reliever for patients whose chronic pain does not respond to other pain medications. This has resulted in a rise in methadone overdoses.
The risk for methadone overdose is high, partly due to the way the drug metabolizes in the body. 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.
In the case of Austin, the Reno, Nev. teen, it was the combination of Methadone with his anti-depressant medication that resulted in his death. Kevin Quint, JTNN’s Executive Director, said the parents are now strong advocates for methadone abuse prevention and offered to help the coalition with its efforts.
“When there son died, they knew nothing about methadone. But now, they’ve become experts in methadone,” Quint explained. “I’m thrilled that they’re willing to take their experience and use it to help other families and kids. They joined our prescription drug abuse task force because they really want to be a part of the solution.”
The coalition is working with their prescription drug abuse task force to develop a public anti-methadone abuse campaign to educate the community about this growing trend, and is planning a prescription drug drop-off program.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, Nevada’s methadone-related poisoning deaths are more than twice the U.S. average. Nationally, methadone poisoning deaths increased 390 percent between 1999 and 2004, prompting the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to launch a new initiative earlier this year to help ensure the safe use of methadone.
One of the factors that contributes to methadone abuse is its low cost. According to an article in the Reno Gazette-Journal, methadone pills are sold on the street for about $10 per tablet, compared to $40 for each OxyContin pill. Officials also say that teens are increasingly using methadone as a party drug.
Quint said local data from Reno’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey does not provide statistics on methadone abuse specifically, so the coalition is working with the school district to add questions to the survey. The group is also hoping to work with one of their local legislators to get him to reintroduce a bill to implement a prescription drug tracking system in Nevada.
“Hopefully, we can use this tragic incident to do something good in the community and develop a comprehensive data-driven strategy that educates the community and changes policies,” Quint said.
For questions or comments about Join Together Northern Nevada’s methadone abuse prevention efforts, contact Kevin Quint at firstname.lastname@example.org.