(Received 21 December 2002; accepted 31 December 2002)
Published Online: 2003
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Methadone maintenance therapy (MMT) is the only currently established medical therapy for heroin addiction. However, MMT still remains controversial. In Hennepin County, Minnesota, methadone is one of the top ten drugs reported in medical examiner investigated deaths and one of the most commonly diverted pharmaceuticals. This report reviews the role of methadone in medical examiner deaths over a 10-year period, 1992-2002. We compare cause and manner of death (accidental, natural, suicide) and methadone blood concentrations for decedents who were members of MMT programs with illicit users and those prescribed methadone for chronic pain. Findings reveal that 65% of decedents with measurable blood methadone concentrations were not participating in MMT programs. A total of 96 cases were identified, with the majority white (90.5%) and male (76.8%). MMTP program members were the minority (34.7%) of the methadone positive deaths and 39% were illicit users. Fifteen percent were chronic pain patients with almost half of this group dying from overdose. Methadone concentrations of drug caused/related deaths (0.18-3.99 mg/L) overlapped with those of deaths not attributable to methadone (0.18-3.03 mg/L) with no definable lethal level. Interpretation of methadone blood concentrations must be done in the context of the clinical history for determining cause of death, and may be confounded by postmortem redistribution.
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