There is a killer drug sweeping Clark County, but instead of back alley drug deals users are getting it from the pharmacy. According to the Clark County coroner, a drug designed to help addicts has claimed more lives than heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine.
More than 80 people in Clark County died from an overdose of methadone last year. And so far this year's numbers suggest more of the same.
A mother first brought it to the I-Team's attention when she wrote to us about the loss of her son. She hoped his death may help to save someone else's child.
These are Kristine Conger's screams recorded by a 911 operator moments after discovering her son, Matthew, cold in the bathroom:
"I reached for him, I reached for him and he was stiff. And I tried to pull on him and it was like he pulled back and I don't even know what happened. I wrapped myself. I was on the back of the toilet and I just took him to the ground and he was gone, he was gone, gone.
According to the Clark County coroner, Matthew died from an overdose of methadone, a drug most commonly known as a treatment for heroin addicts. But Matthew didn't use heroin and wasn't in treatment.
None of it made any sense to Kristine until she found something in his back pack a month after he died. "It's so hard to take in, because it wasn't him. It so wasn't him. I don't know why he took the methadone," she said.
Matthew had been getting high on prescription drugs that weren't his. Kristine suspects a patient at the Adelson Clinic illegally provided the methadone to her son. Whoever diverted the drug took care to cover their tracks.
Though patients in treatment take the majority of their methadone on site, every clinic in the valley is closed on Sunday, so federal and state regulations allow addicts a take home dose.
Lisa Jones is the bureau chief of the state agency that licenses methadone clinics. "Obviously, it's always a concern and in the situation you just described, there's no repairing that loss. But the system is really targeted at being aware of all of the potential pitfalls, recognizing that they occur and trying to put the pieces in place to prevent that from happening."
Despite that national research suggests methadone diversion is on the rise, not only from treatment centers, but from private physicians who prescribe the drug for pain. A state epidemiologist found of 156 methadone deaths in Clark County and only 13 were patients of a drug treatment facility. The rest either had a prescription or got it illegally, like Matthew.
Kristine Conger said, "The clinics, the professionals should be held accountable, whether it's obtained legally or illegally, for the deaths that are happening."
State licensing officials plan to investigate Matthew's overdose.
It's little comfort to Kristine, who lost her only child to a death. "Matthew was a good kid and he didn't know, he didn't know. I lost him and I would die a thousand times just for him to be living."
Matthew was one of those 80 people in Clark County who died last year from an overdose of methadone.
After initially agreeing to an interview with the I-Team, the Adelson Clinic cancelled it and decided not to comment.
Thursday at 5 p.m., the I-Team will look at the rise in methadone prescriptions and the corresponding increase in deaths.
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