Modest Increase Seen in Methadone-Involved OD Deaths in March 2020

Prescription Pills
Pharmaceutical Prescription Pills Spilled out of a bottle
Increase in methadone-involved deaths in March 2020 not thought to be tied to expanded opioid treatment program take-home policies.

HealthDay News — There was a modest increase in methadone-involved overdose deaths in March 2020, according to a research letter published online July 13 in JAMA Psychiatry.

Noting that in order to facilitate methadone access from opioid treatment programs (OTPs) during the COVID-19 pandemic, states were allowed to request blanket exemptions to provide take-home methadone, Christopher M. Jones, Pharm.D., Dr.P.H., from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and colleagues calculated monthly overdose deaths involving and not involving methadone and the percentages of overdose deaths involving methadone during January 2019 to August 2021.

The researchers found that the estimated monthly overdose deaths not involving methadone increased by 78.12, 1,078.27, and 69.07 deaths per month before March 2020, in March 2020, and after March 2020, respectively, with similar trend slopes observed before and after March 2020. The estimated methadone-involved overdose deaths were stable before March 2020 (−0.12), increased by 94.12 deaths in March 2020, and remained stable after March 2020 (−1.91), with similar trend slopes noted before and after March 2020. The estimated percentages of overdose deaths involving methadone decreased 0.06 percent per month before March 2020, increased 0.69 percent in March 2020, and decreased 0.05 percent per month after March 2020, with similar trend slopes observed before and after March 2020.

“These findings suggest the modest increase in methadone-involved overdose deaths in March 2020 was associated with the spike in overall drug overdose deaths driven by illicitly made fentanyl in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic rather than associated with OTP take-home policy changes,” the authors write.

One author disclosed financial ties to General Electric, 3M Companies, and Pfizer.

Abstract/Full Text