Why and how we examined methadone in MinnesotaIn early 2012, the News Tribune got a tip that several people in the Duluth area had overdosed and died from methadone in recent years.
By: Brandon Stahl, Forum Communications
In early 2012, the News Tribune got a tip that several people in the Duluth area had overdosed and died from methadone in recent years.
Taking a cue from the Seattle Times, which used state data to investigate the link between methadone deaths in Washington state and people using methadone for pain, the News Tribune obtained a copy of a database maintained by the Minnesota Department of Health of all people who have died from drug-related poisonings from 2000 to 2010, the most recent year the data was available.
That database listed people who died from accidental methadone overdoses and sometimes provided additional descriptions of the deaths, such as whether other drugs were in their system.
The News Tribune also obtained medical records, medical examiner reports, police reports and examined court files to find methadone-related deaths from 2010 to about July 2012. An extensive review of those records, along with interviews with surviving friends and family members, found that the majority of the methadone-involved deaths in St. Louis and Carlton counties were from people using the drug in addiction treatment or abusing it to get high.
To examine the effectiveness of methadone treatment, the News Tribune first asked the state’s Department of Human Services, which licenses and inspects the programs, what records it uses to examine not only the effectiveness of methadone but other forms of chemical dependency treatment. The DHS provided admission and discharge reports for all chemical dependency treatment providers in Minnesota. That data allowed the newspaper to look at the performance of the state’s methadone clinics and compare it to other types of chemical dependency treatments.
To determine if use and abuse of opiates was increasing in Minnesota, the News Tribune obtained arrest and seizure data from the state Department of Public Safety, as well as data from the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration, which tracks the legal distribution and sales of narcotics down to three-digit zip codes across the country. For example, Duluth, Hermantown and Proctor share the “558” zip code.
The News Tribune also reviewed numerous state and federal research reports on methadone deaths and hundreds of pages of inspection reports on methadone clinics throughout the country and interviewed dozens of drug experts, state officials, law enforcement officials, methadone counselors and current and former methadone patients.