WASHINGTON, D.C. — In an effort to curb overdose deaths related to opiate abuse, Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and six of their Senate colleagues called on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to examine the use of methadone for pain, and to issue guidance to state Medicaid directors to remove methadone from preferred drug lists for pain management.
“West Virginia has the nation’s highest rate of overdose deaths, and because we are such a small state, we feel this pain more than most. It is deeply troubling that methadone, a drug responsible for 30 percent of opioid-related prescription drug overdose deaths, is the pain-treatment drug of choice for most state Medicaid programs. West Virginia has led the way by already making methadone a non-preferred drug, but we must encourage surrounding states to do the same. By doing so, we can fight back against the drug epidemic that is devastating West Virginia,” said Senator Capito.
“The fact that 30 percent of opioid-related deaths involve methadone sends a strong signal that we need to take a closer look at the widespread use of methadone for chronic pain,” Senator Manchin said. “The decision by state Medicaid programs to designate methadone as a preferred drug for chronic pain is very likely contributing to the drastic rise in opioid overdose deaths we’ve seen in our country and our state, which has the highest rate of overdose deaths in the nation. We have a responsibility to fight this epidemic from every angle, and this is one simple step we can take to stop the scourge of prescription drug abuse.”
Nationally, methadone accounts for only two percent of opioid pain reliever prescriptions but 30 percent of related overdoses. Because of methadone’s drug properties, the risk of overdose is disproportionally higher than other opiate pain relievers. And because of its low cost and status as a preferred pain reliever in most state Medicaid programs, methadone is widely prescribed as a first option for the treatment of pain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and leading medical specialty societies representing pain medicine providers have all stated that methadone should not be used as a first line therapy for pain relief.
Other Senators signing the letter include Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), Angus King (I-Maine) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).