Nationally, methadone accounts for 2% of opioid pain prescriptions but 30% of opioid-related prescription drug overdose deaths


Washington (July 21, 2015) – In an effort to stem the tide of overdose deaths related to opiate abuse, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today was joined by seven Senate colleagues in calling on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to examine the use of methadone for pain and issue guidance to state Medicaid directors to remove methadone from preferred drug lists for pain management. Nationally, methadone accounts for only two percent of opioid pain reliever prescriptions but 30 percent of related overdoses. Because of methadone’s drug properties, the risk of overdose is disproportionally higher than other opiate pain relievers. And because of its low cost and status of as a preferred pain reliever in most state Medicaid programs, methadone is widely prescribed as a first option for the treatment of pain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and leading medical specialty societies representing pain medicine providers have all stated that methadone should not be used as a first line therapy for pain relief. There are currently 30 Medicaid state programs, including Massachusetts, that list methadone as a preferred drug for the treatment of chronic pain.


“The life-threatening adverse effects have raised serious concerns regarding the appropriateness of the widespread use of methadone for the treatment of chronic pain, particularly given the availability of alternatives that have been associated with less risk of overdose,” write the Senators in the letter to CMS. “These state Medicaid policies may be inadvertently contributing to opioid overdose deaths. State Medicaid programs play a significant role in providing access to quality health services for low income families and should continue to ensure the safe, appropriate and effective use of medications among the Medicaid population.”


Other Senators signing the letter include Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Shelley Capito (R-W.V.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Angus King (I-Maine), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).


A copy of the Senators’s letter to CMS can be found HERE.