Prescribed narcotic the cause of overdose outbreak

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Doctors at St. Bernards Hospital are seeing an outbreak in overdoses on prescription drugs.

The culprit is the narcotic pain reliever, methadone.

People that are prescribed methadone can handle it because they usually have a history of chronic illness. However, the average person cannot handle a dose of methadone, especially on top of other medications.

Doctors at St. Bernards said this is why if it is not your prescription, do not take it.

"Your breathing stops. Your heart stops. And you have trouble thereafter," Dr. Don Howard, with St. Bernards, said.

Trouble with life-altering effects.

"Come in clinically brain dead. Some don't make it out of the hospital. Some do. Some do recover, but not in the same condition they were coming in. They'll have substantial neurological deficits," Howard said.

Howard sees this happen to all ages and men and women.

"There are people that kind of 'fit the bill,' if you will. They'll be positive for illicit type drugs, meth and things such as that. But then, sometimes, it's an innocent mistake," Howard said. "It seems to becoming more and more common."

Howard said cost contributes to methadone's popularity. It is cheap and sometimes even free.

"I can't think of very many times it was that actual patient's methadone dose," Howard said. "They're given medicine from a friend or family that says, 'Hey, my doctor gave me this. It might work for you.' But in actuality, that's not a good idea because you may not be suited for that type of medicine."

Many people are not. That's why St. Bernards Hospital has methadone locked up in its pharmacy.

However, that does not even stop some people. Howard said many abuse the system.

"One of the biggest things we see is people who acquire medicines from multiple different doctors. They doctor shop," Howard said.

Once they have the methadone, Howard said many do not know how to dose it.

"You can take a dose and start feeling fine. Then you start stacking something else on and that's where you get into trouble," Howard said.

Howard's patients are stacking alcohol, illicit drugs, and/or other prescription drugs on top of the methadone, an often deadly combination.

"That medicine will build up in your system and there may be a moment in time where that next dose is the dose that's too much," Howard said.

Howard offered a solution to this outbreak: the Arkansas Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP).

The website allows doctors and pharmacists to track patients' misuse and abuse of prescription drugs.

To learn more, visit the PMP's website.

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