CDC Issues Opioid Prescription Guideline for Primary Care Doctors

March 16, 2016

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued new recommendations for prescribing opioid medications for chronic pain.

The “CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, United States, 2016” was developed in response to an epidemic of prescription opioid overdose, which CDC says has been fueled by a quadrupling of sales of opioids since 1999.

“More than 40 Americans die each day from prescription opioid overdoses, we must act now,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Overprescribing opioids—largely for chronic pain—is a key driver of America’s drug-overdose epidemic. The guideline will give physicians and patients the information they need to make more informed decisions about treatment.”

Recent research by the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) found that three out of four injured workers needing pain medication are prescribed opioids and that 20 states have taken steps to reform their laws on physician dispensing of opioids.

The new CDC guideline provides recommendations on the use of opioids in treating chronic pain (pain lasting longer than three months or past the time of normal tissue healing). This new guideline is for primary care providers—who account for prescribing nearly half of all opioid prescriptions—treating adult patients for chronic pain in outpatient settings. It is not intended for guiding treatment of patients in active cancer treatment, palliative care, or end-of-life care.

While prescription opioids can be part of pain management, they have serious risks, according to the CDC. The new guideline aims to lessen opioid use disorder and overdose.

When opioids are used, doctors should prescribe lowest possible effective dosage, according to the guideline.

The guideline also suggests increasing the use of other effective treatments available for chronic pain, such as non-opioid medications or non-pharmacologic therapies.

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