Salisbury, N.H., police chief David L'Esperance is working to improve drug-related law enforcement and education for personal and professional reasons: his son, Christopher, 20, died last year of a methadone overdose.
The Boston Globe reported Jan. 12. that L'Esperance has helped focus attention on the dangers of methadone, an effective treatment for opiate addiction that also is increasingly being prescribed as a pain medication -- and being diverted for illicit use.
In Massachusetts, fatal methadone overdoses rose 400 percent between 2002 and 2005, and the story is similar in New Hampshire. Nationally, methadone overdoses rose 390 percent between 1999 and 2004.
Whereas methadone clinics administer the drug in liquid form to opiate addicts, the drug also is available in 5 or 10 milligram tablets or 40 milligram wafers as a painkiller. Due to the controversy over OxyContin, many doctors began prescribing methadone for pain. That had led to more availability of the drug on the streets.
"It's a very serious problem," said Michael Botticelli, director of substance-abuse services at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. "What seems to be the case is that there are people who got it for a legitimate reason and then, for one reason or another, it gets diverted and used inappropriately by somebody else."
"People think it's safe, especially kids," said L'Esperance. "Because they see the ads on TV, they see it in the medicine chest. They're clean. They're not coming from some meth lab. It's not a crack pipe that somebody else is using or a dirty needle."
Methadone metabolizes slowly, staying in the body for longer than most users realize and raising the risk of overdose among novices and those who take the drug in combination with alcohol or other drugs.