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Objectives: Methadone is a well-studied, safe, and effective medication when dispensed and consumed properly. However, a number of studies have identified elevated rates of overdose and death in patients being treated with methadone for either addiction or chronic pain. Among patients being treated with methadone in federally certified opioid treatment programs, deaths most often occur during the induction and stabilization phases of treatment. To address this issue, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration invited the American Society of Addiction Medicine to convene an expert panel to develop a consensus statement on methadone induction and stabilization, with recommendations to reduce the risk of patient overdose or death related to methadone maintenance treatment of addiction.

Methods: A comprehensive literature search of English-language publications (1979-2011) was conducted via MEDLINE and EMBASE. Methadone Action Group members evaluated the resulting information and collaborated in formulating the consensus statement presented here, which subsequently was reviewed by more than 100 experts in the field.

Results: Published data indicate that deaths during methadone induction occur because the initial dose is too high, the dose is increased too rapidly, or the prescribed methadone interacts with another drug. Therefore, the Methadone Action Group has developed recommendations to help methadone providers avoid or minimize these risks.

Conclusions: Careful management of methadone induction and stabilization, coupled with patient education and increased clinical vigilance, can save lives in this vulnerable patient population.