Overdose deaths attributed to methadone and heroin in New York City, 1990–1998

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Abstract

Aims

Methadone treatment has been shown to be an effective intervention that can lower the risk of heroin-induced overdose death. Recent reports have suggested increases in methadone-induced overdose deaths in several locations in the USA and in Europe. This study investigated the role of methadone and opiates in accidental overdose deaths in New York City.

Design

We analysed data from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to examine all accidental drug overdose deaths in New York City between 1990 and 1998.

Findings

Of 7451 total overdose deaths during this period, there were 1024 methadone-induced overdose deaths, 4627 heroin-induced overdose deaths and 408 overdose deaths attributed to both methadone and heroin. Fewer than a third as many accidental overdose deaths were attributed to methadone than were attributed to heroin during this period. The proportion of accidental overdose deaths attributed to methadone did not change appreciably (12.6–15.8% of total overdose mortality), while the proportion of overdose deaths attributed to heroin increased significantly (53.5–64.2%) during the period of study.

Conclusions

There was no appreciable increase in methadone-induced overdose mortality in New York City during the 1990s. Both heroin-induced overdose mortality and prescriptions of methadone increased during the same interval.

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