Methadone, formerly used primarily to treat heroin addicts, is now increasingly being prescribed for patients suffering from debilitating pain. Powerful and long-lasting, it's proved effective for millions, but it's also risky, causing more than 4,000 deaths between 1999 and 2005. The New York Times investigates the medical community’s struggle with the drug.
Prescriptions of methadone, a synthetic form of opium, soared 700% between 1998 and 2006, as doctors sought alternatives to often-abused drugs like OxyContin. But it's also become the fastest growing cause of narcotic deaths. “This is a wonderful medicine used appropriately, but an unforgiving medicine used inappropriately,” one pain specialist tells the Times. “Many legitimate patients, following the direction of the doctor, have run into trouble with methadone, including death.”