HomeTechnologyRelaxed methadone rules appear safe, researchers say

Relaxed methadone rules appear safe, researchers say

By CARLA K. JOHNSON, AP Medical Writer

When the coronavirus pandemic shut down the country in March 2020, the US government told methadone clinics they could allow stable patients with opioid addiction to take their medications at home without supervision.

Methadone, itself an opioid, can be dangerous in large amounts, and most patients must take the liquid medication every day at clinics. It was unclear whether the relaxed take-home policy would do more harm than good.

Now, a new study of fatal overdoses from January 2019 to August 2021 suggests that providing access was safe. It did not lead to more deaths related to the treatment drug.

The proportion of methadone overdose deaths fell from 4.5% in January 2019 to 3.2% in August 2021, the study found.

The finding could help make the change permanent, wrote the authors, who are US government researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Dr. Neeraj Gandotra, medical director of the federal agency that regulates methadone clinics, called the initial analysis “very promising.”

When the government eased restrictions, it said stable patients could get 28 days of take-home methadone and less stable patients could get 14 days. Clinics were allowed to find out which patients were eligible; many were based on criteria such as length of treatment and absence of criminal activity.

More than 400,000 people in the United States take methadone as part of their treatment for addiction to opioids such as heroin, fentanyl, and pain relievers. Methadone, when used correctly, can stop drug cravings without causing a high.

The study, published Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry, found that overdose deaths overall, including those involving methadone, increased in March 2020. Then, in the months after the policy change, methadone deaths were flat while that other fatal overdoses continued to rise.

More than 107,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year, a record in the nation’s overdose epidemic. The increases were driven by deaths related to fentanyl, cocaine and other stimulants.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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