Nonmedical use of prescription drugs and poisoning overdose deaths related to prescription drugs are increasing. This article presents an in-depth description of decedents from rural southwestern Virginia, where methadone was identified on toxicology.
Cases for this study were derived from a population-based review of 893 drug-related deaths occurring from 1997 to 2003 in the Office of the Medical Examiner, Western District of Virginia.
Deaths in which methadone was identified on toxicology in rural southwestern Virginia increased rapidly over the 7-year study period. In the majority of cases, the cause of death was polydrug toxicity, and the manner of death was classified as accident. A majority of decedents did not have prescriptions for drugs identified on toxicology. The mean concentration of methadone for all cases was 495 mg/L, and there was no significant difference between concentrations where methadone was found alone or in combination with other drugs. There was a significant difference in methadone concentrations for those with prescriptions (645 mg/L vs 449 mg/L) when compared with those without.
Cases where methadone was identified on toxicology increased significantly over the time studied. Efforts to prevent these deaths include the use of State Prescription Monitoring Programs, Universal Precautions, and Guidelines from the Federation of State Medical Boards.