Methadone Therapy and other Opiates

Methadone therapy is a common treatment for people who are addicted to opiate based drugs such as heroin. A new study indicates that many addicts on methadone deceive doctors in order to gain access to other prescription opiate drugs.A recent study carried out at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) and published in the journal Addiction appears to show that a high number of patients treated with methadone therapy for opiate addiction also received prescriptions for more than a week’s supply of other opioids. Dr. Paul Kurdyak, head of CAMH's Emergency Crisis Services and Research said, "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,"

The problem seemed to occur when doctors who were not prescribing the methadone for the patients were consulted regarding other issues by the patient. They consequently ended up writing them prescriptions for other opioids on top of their methadone therapy. The study appears to show that patients generally received up to 12 alternate opiate based prescriptions over a 7 year period with nearly half of those being written by a practitioner that had no prior knowledge of their methadone prescription.

Dr. Kurdyak, said, "If someone on methadone maintenance therapy needs pain management, they should be prescribed short-acting opioids for short periods of time, and these prescriptions should be written by the methadone prescriber so that the patients can be monitored,". Opiate overdoses and fatalities have increased dramatically in recent years both in America and the UK and this research suggests that those deaths which are classed as methadone related could be the result of the additional prescribed opioids.

Co-author of the study and ICES scientist Dr. David Juurlink said, "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, one remedy to this problem is a prescription monitoring system that allows pharmacies to communicate in real time, similar to what British Columbia implemented in the mid-1990s, had such a system been in place in Ontario, I imagine that our findings might have been very different."

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