Two deaths in one family associated with methadone are not uncommon say some survivors who have signed a mammoth anti methadone (heroin substitution / anti pain drug) petition, and taken on an educational role in the wake of all their personal tragedies.

One U.S. family with young children lost their Dad first by accidental overdose when he’d taken the drug just as prescribed. The margin for error in prescribing doses is tiny, say  anaesthesiologists. Within weeks his bereft wife who’d become withdrawn, herself overdosed on the remainder of the poison.

‘Methadone saves lives’, is the catch cry of the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence (AATOD) which issued a statement in response to publicity around the cause of Anna Nicole Smith and sons deaths.

AATOD is a conglomerate made up of Pharmaceutical Companies, Patients and those members among the medical fraternity who support methadone treatment for addicts.

‘Don’t make us laugh’ respond HARMD (Helping America Reduce Methadone Deaths) – a large lobbyist group formed by families of methadone victims. ‘That hackneyed promo phrase is a bit off, given over 4000 deaths or one for every 50 addiction patients are occurring yearly now’.

HARMD members point out that Methadone has only been widely used for addiction treatment since the late 1980’s. Research published on the groups website confirms their claim that ‘in many places at different times it’s use has resulted in patients having far greater chances of overdosing, than if they’d just stayed on ‘smack’.

HARMD say they believe that in many States methadone prescriptions can be equated with death certificates for patients or their acquaintances. That certain patients would be placing a better bet with a visit to their dealer – ‘or with alternate treatments like detox buprenorphine, or heroin (UK)’.

‘Yes methadone opiate substitution is a less stressful lifestyle for addicts when they get tired of the ratrace, as the drug is spoon-fed. But the problem emerging in many studies lately is that it increases cravings for drugs in many patients,’ says member Rachael Ford, who is a Registered Nurse.

‘Just not for opiates (the craving), so they do not reduce their offending any or their chances of overdosage as cocaine and the like take hold – then downers to control agitation’.

Patients frequently deal in parts of their doses at $1 a mg (often they’re on 100 a day). Their reason for doing so, is of course per the studies to obtain drug money with cocaine and methamphetamine being the drugs of choice.

Why? To overcome the lethargy that methadone often causes, Ford explains.

It’s a treatment not suitable for everyone however much Drs resist the thought. Once they start polydrugging, which is far too tolerated by indulgent clinics (70% of patients aren’t clean of other drugs in some clinics) their chance of a methadone overdose shoots up.

The AATOD claims it is ‘unsupervised prescription and use of methadone for pain management’ by untrained Drs that is behind the epidemic methadone overdoses.

And asserts that scientific studies show conclusively that methadone and other federally-approved opioids are proven to be successful treatment options if ‘used appropriately in settings approved to deliver methadone maintenance treatment’.

But HARMD’s members, who actually even include prior methadone clinic staff and trained addiction counsellors who work in the field are adamant that AATOD is incorrect in attempting to solely blame Drs prescribing methadone for pain.

‘It’s hitting kids hard – they’re not on pain medicines and its not tablets they’ve used – a la pain treatment, but the addict’s syrup like Anna Nicole used,’ say HARMD Moms, sadly.

Pain patients do not get prescribed opiates lightly but when they do it is often methadone as this is a cheap drug against more traditional opiates.

‘We have less cause to sell our medicine, as the only reason we are using it is to get rid of severe pain – that in itself is a strong disincentive not to sell any medicine,’ according to one woman who wished to go unnamed.

‘The report AATOD get this fingerpointing ability from was a Government sponsored one released by SAHMSA in 2004 certainly. But the content and interpretations made of it can’t be trusted one inch, Stewart B Leavitt was the project manager’.

Stewart B Leavitt is the Editor of an addiction treatment magazine which promotes methadone treatment among heroin addicts and was also employed by a Company that manufactures methadone.

‘Of the 1400 odd signatures we have collected for a petition aimed at tightening up on methadone treatment especially take home doses and it’s general overusage, large numbers are relatives who have indeed lost patients to methadone maintenance addiction treatment’.

HARMD members say there is no doubt that significant numbers out of the thousands of methadone deaths yearly are indeed traceable to poor methadone maintenance treatment delivered in certified clinics.

Volunteers in the group now determined to expose the harm of a fast expanding sector in the drug market are currently gathering the most recent statistics on a State by State basis, so that HARMD can conduct it’s own statistical analysis.

‘Through incorrect dosing or putting unsuitable patients on the drug we find there are indeed numerous sudden deaths inflicted upon patients (and bereaved families) who trusted implicitly their fanatical MMT clinic’s staffs promises that methadone would give them their lives back’.

They humanise the drug, make it seem all warm and fluffy and it almost has messianic status amongst it’s large following – but who knows which patient will be struck down next and regreting the day.

‘When this happens staff and patients just blame the victim, or the addictive illness or say well they had a nice few days / months or years on methadone didn’t they. In denial of the latest murder many feel’

The families feel no-one cares because they were ‘just addicts’ but many did have worth and potential and were just victims of misadventure. Those who should be battening the hatches seem to lack urgency and perspective, being snowed with reports funded by the pharm companies.

‘It can’t be overstated by us that much of the harm is flowing forth from methadone clinics’, says Ford. And a 10 year study by Gagajewski and Apple which was conducted in Minnesota does not put pay to HARMDs view.

The study found that 35% of methadone overdose deaths were addiction treatment patients. Under half that number were pain patients and the rest had acquired the drug illicitly – so they were medical staff, bought or were given methadone provided by clinics to a patient cum dealer.

In Spalding (UK) a 33 year old ‘great Dad’ experimented with the drug which he obtained in January as a result of becoming acquainted with registered addicts, and died on a low dose. The death of another naive user (a woman) was also associated with the same methadone maintenance patients having spread their poison around, not long before.

Many victims were contributing members of society. Teen victims who perhaps experimented once in their life after meeting a pushy methadone addict often had bright futures, as can be seen from the ‘stop methadone death’ petitions poignant comments.

Members believe interest groups are pressuring Government to turn a blind eye. ‘AATOD is even asking for a different OD death counting method – presumably one that excludes  deaths where any other drug is contributory from being included in the methadone toll.’

The SAMHSA Report, highlighted the need to develop a uniform definition for defining cases of drug-related mortalities and concluded that health professionals need better training in addressing pain and addiction. 

AATOD has called for a coordinated national response to reports of methadone deaths in line with the recommendations of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Report of February 2004. 

Well we can agree with that part at least – ‘this holocaust needs to be halted and fast,’ says Melissa Zuppardi, Co-ordinator of HARMD who lost her star Sportsman fiance unexpectedly to methadone.

Staff had overdosed him with slightly too high a dose delivered for several days during inpatient treatment  he received. He had become opiate addicted pursuant to suffering a knee injury.

Unfortunately the SAMHSA report has not highlighted the recently discovered fact that methadone is cardiotoxic and there are many reports with the WHO of it causing cardiac arrests.

As one risk factor is a malnourished state HARMD say it’s appalling AATOD and the UN are prepared to push on with introducing this cheap dirty drug with so many drawbacks into second and third world countries, as per a 2005 resolution.

‘We’d hope methadone can be removed from the UN list of essential medicines, at least until all issues to lately emerge with this highly dangerous opiate are resolved’.

Contact details for HARMD at www.harmd.org

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