Prescription drug is #1 cause of overdose in Elkhart County

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Methadone, a drug available with a prescription, is the number one cause of overdose deaths in Elkhart County.

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Methadone, a drug available with a prescription, is the number one cause of overdose deaths in Elkhart County.

Since 2007, 49 individuals died from an overdose where Methadone was consumed. The most recent overdose occurred June 11, 2014.

Methadone, like Oxycodone and Morphine is a legal opioid but it can be abused in a way to achieve heroin-like effects. According to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Methadone is involved in one third of all opioid pain reliever-related deaths (OPR), but accounts for only a small percentage of OPR prescriptions.

The drug is particularly dangerous because of it's long half life. Elkhart County Coroner John White said after 12 hours, half of the active ingredients in Methadone remain in the user's body, while the effects dissipate in 4 to 8 hours.

The CDC reports users may overdose if they're seeking more pain relief and take more pills--not realizing that they'e creating toxic levels of methadone in their system.

In Elkhart County, the majority of people overdosing from Methadone do not have prescriptions.

"It's prescribed mostly for pain management," said White.

Methadone Clinics were created in the 1960s to distribute the liquid form of the drug to heroin addicts, but since then the drug has expanded in use to treat chronic pain.

But the drug's inception dates even farther back. It was created in 1937 in Nazi Germany as a synthetic opioid. The Germans worried that it's ties to Eastern opiates would be severed and wanted to create their own supply.

Methadone came to the U.S. more than two decades later and was eventually used to decrease opioid dependence.

"Methadone is very similar to heroin where it's very inexpensive to buy a prescription for it, where Oxycotin and Oxycodone are very, very expensive," White explained, "we have a problem of it being readily available."

It wasn't until 2007 that the coroner's office placed Methadone on it's list of deadly drugs to look out for.

"You have to have the history of the patient, you have to have knowledge of how much this drug they've experienced in the past because it's all relevant to what their tolerances will be," White explained.

Someone who is new to the prescription requires a small dosage of Methadone to achieve an overdose, whereas someone who has been taking the drug for an extended period of time would have a higher tolerance.

Overdoses are recognized by shortness of breath, dizziness and ultimately cardiac suppression.

Victims are identifiable by a tobacco-type fluid purged from the nose and mouth.

"They also start into a very rapid, early decomposition," said White, "they spike a really high fever in the range of 108 degrees--that's why we see the purge effect when their bodies are found because they're already decomposing on the inside."

White fears that doctors haven't taken enough time to emphasize the potential risk of the drug when they prescribe it.

He also fears that, in pill form, when Methadone is purchased on the street as a cheap drug buyers may not know what they're getting into. When it's referred to as "meth," people may mistake it for methamphetamine and overdose in search of a classic meth high.


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