Limiting Opioid Painkiller Prescriptions – CDC Issues Guidelines
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have unveiled long-awaited guidelines to limit prescriptions of opioid painkillers in order to prevent overuse. The guidelines recommend limiting opioid prescriptions for patients suffering short-term, acute pain to three days or less in most conditions and say that more than seven days’ worth of opioid drugs “will rarely be needed.” CDC Director Tom Frieden said, “What we’re trying to do with this guideline is chart a safer course that allows patients with severe pain to be treated but recognizes that for most patients with chronic pain, the risks of prescription opiates will far outweigh the uncertain benefits.” Some states, insurers and doctor’s offices have adopted their own prescription limits in recent years, but as the rate of drug overdose deaths from opioids tripled between 2000 and 2014, CDC was under more pressure to issue guidelines. Deaths from opioid painkillers rose 9 percent in 2014, and that same year, opioids were involved in 28,647 deaths, or 61 percent of all drug overdose deaths.
The guidelines, which are voluntary, urge primary-care clinicians—doctors, physician assistants and nurse practitioners—to offer patients alternative treatments for chronic pain, such as non-opioid painkillers like ibuprofen and physical therapy, to prescribe the lowest effective dosage possible to patients who do need opioid drugs, and monitor the patient carefully, because the drugs are highly addictive.
“If you’re prescribing an opiate to a patient for the first time, that’s a momentous decision,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in an interview. “That may change that patient’s life for the worse forever. So you’ve really got to think carefully before doing it.”