Methadone: One Pill Can Kill

ByABC News
September 21, 2006, 7:45 PM

Sept. 22, 2006 — -- Pain pills are the new "pocket gold" on the street, so valuable to drug dealers that the neighborhood prescription counter has become the target of routine holdups.

Bandits have been caught on surveillance video jumping over counters, not for cash in the register, but for Percocet, OxyContin, and a new favorite, methadone.

No matter how it is acquired, illegally or by prescription, methadone is now the leading drug killer in many states.

In North Carolina, methadone-related deaths have increased by 50 times in recent years, skyrocketing to more than one death every other day.

Methadone is prescribed more frequently and sold on the street for as little as 25 cents a pill.

Ruth Winecker, a chief toxicologist for the North Carolina Medical Examiner's Office, says methadone is so cheap, insurance companies promote its use.

Often doctors wrongly prescribe methadone for temporary pain, such as a migraine headache, menstrual cramps, or a pulled tooth.

Winecker says the danger with methadone is that it stays in your body for a long time.

About 15 hours after you take a methadone tablet, half of the tablet is still active in your system.

Now autopsy reports are showing that even people who suffer legitimate pain and have prescriptions from their doctors can be at risk.

Michael Houston, 17, of Winston-Salem, N.C., lost his life to methadone.

His parents, Terry and Lisa Houston, say he had too many activities on his plate to be a drug abuser.

He was active in church youth groups; played guitar and baseball; and, had an after-school job and a girlfriend.

His father, Terry Houston, remembers that his son was very congested and was not sleeping well at night.

"Someone may have told him, 'Take this [pill]. This will help you rest. You'll get a good night's sleep,'" Houston said.