Pubdate: Wed, 06 Jul 2005
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2005 Calgary Herald
Author: Colette Derworiz
Bookmark: (Chronic Pain)
Bookmark: (Methadone)


Girlfriend Mourns Victim Of Overdose

Methadone-related deaths in Calgary have jumped to 14 from one in a 
three-year period, as the city grapples with a controversy over a 
private clinic that quietly opened near downtown.

According to statistics provided by the chief medical examiner's 
office, there have been more than 100 deaths in Alberta since 2002 in 
which methadone was found during the toxicology screen.

In Calgary, the number of deaths has risen during the same time 
period from one in 2002 to seven in 2003 to 14 in 2004.

"Methadone is a very controlled drug," said Dr. Peter Singer, a 
toxicologist with the office of the chief medical examiner in Edmonton.

"It's only prescribed very restrictively, so deaths associated with 
it are very much connected to availability.

"So if it becomes available, people will die of it."

Both of Calgary's methadone clinics opened in the fall of 2003.

Methadone, an opioid, is considered a relatively inexpensive way of 
helping drug addicts stop taking heroin, morphine, crack cocaine and 
some prescription painkillers.

However, a Calgary woman whose boyfriend died from a methadone 
overdose last November said she worries people are taking what they 
consider an easy way out without considering the risks.

"I wish we hadn't been so quick to grab on to the first solution to 
come along," Virginia Servage, 27, told the Herald on Tuesday.

Servage's boyfriend, Mark Roth, started taking methadone in November 
2003 after trying for years to beat a series of drug addictions, 
including Demerol, cocaine and morphine.

"He was thrilled with the program," Servage recalled. "They were 
actually dealing with something he'd been struggling with all his life."

But on Nov. 16, 2004 -- one year and 15 days after starting the 
program -- Roth died from a methadone overdose. It's believed he may 
have accidentally taken a half-dose after forgetting he had already 
taken a full one, said Servage.

"It was just enough to stop his heart," she said, noting she often 
wishes he hadn't gone on the treatment.

Officials at the medical examiner's office explained that there are 
two types of methadone-related deaths -- a result of combining 
methadone with other drugs or alcohol, and a non-tolerant person 
taking methadone.

Ald. Madeleine King, who has raised concerns about the private clinic 
that opened without her or the community's knowledge, said the rising 
number of deaths since the clinics opened raise serious questions.

"We hear supporters saying that (methadone) saves lives, but the 
statistics are quite worrying," King said.

There has been at least one fatal overdose in Calgary attributed to 
someone stealing or buying methadone on the streets.

That death and fears of escalating drug use in the area were among 
the major concerns raised about the private clinic in the Beltline 
when the controversy broke last week.

No one from First Street Medical Clinic, which houses a methadone 
program, could be reached for comment late Tuesday Officials with the 
other Calgary clinic declined comment because they hadn't seen the statistics.

But Alberta's College of Physicians and Surgeons, which recommends 
doctors for a special licence needed to prescribe methadone, said the 
increase in methadone-related deaths since the clinics opened could 
be a coincidence.

"It's very difficult to draw any correlation between the opening of 
the clinic and the deaths," Cathy McCann, manager of physician 
prescribing practices, said Tuesday. "Methadone can come from a 
variety of sources."

In addition to the two clinics, she said there are also doctors 
prescribing methadone for patients with chronic pain or palliative care pain.

However, McCann said any death related to a specific drug is a concern.

"We don't like to see anybody die in any kind of a drug overdose," 
she said. "But it is, in some cases, a risk factor."
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