The number of people dying from overdoses of prescription painkillers has skyrocketed in recent years, prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to issue new guidelines that urge doctors to consider alternatives to opioids when treating adults with chronic pain.
Deaths from opioids, which include OxyContin and Vicodin, have more than quadrupled since 1999. More than 40 Americans die each day from prescription opioid overdoses. “We must act now,” said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden, who put the burden on prescribing physicians. “Overprescribing opioids – largely for chronic pain – is a key driver of America’s drug-overdose epidemic.”
The guidelines – which are recommendations and not regulations – do not apply to those suffering from terminal illness or receiving palliative or end-of-life care, but are focused on curbing the use of the powerful painkillers for chronic pain. The CDC recommends that doctors treating patients with pain that lasts more than three months or past the time of normal tissue healing, suggest alternatives such as exercise, cognitive behavioral therapy or anti-inflammatory drugs before prescribing opioids.
If opioids become necessary, the CDC recommends that they be used in low doses, for the shortest duration possible, and in conjunction with alternative therapies.
The prescription drug crisis in the United States has been growing in epidemic proportions and a growing effort has been made to curb the trend. While the FDA continues to approve new opioids, the agency has ordered drug companies to work on tamperproof versions of long-acting opioids. Last week, the U.S. Senate passed a bill that would pay for grants to help combat the problem of prescription drug abuse. The bill currently awaits House approval.
The American Medical Association was largely supportive of the proposed guidelines but did express concerns that the measure would limit access to needed pain medication for some patients.