CDC issues new opioid guidelines

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued new guidelines for prescribing opioid medications for chronic pain, excluding cancer, palliative, and end-of-life care.

The U.S. is currently experiencing an epidemic of prescription opioid overdose. Increased prescribing and sales of opioids -- quadruple since 1999 -- helped create and fuel this epidemic, according to the CDC.

More than 40 Americans die each day from prescription opioid overdoses, CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, noted. He pointed out that overprescribing opioids -- largely for chronic pain -- is a key driver of the country's drug overdose epidemic. The guidelines are designed to give physicians and patients the information to make more informed decisions about treatment.

The recommendations refer to the use of opioids in treating chronic pain, pain lasting longer than three months or past the time of normal tissue healing. The guidelines focus on primary care providers -- who account for prescribing nearly half of all opioid prescriptions -- treating adult patients for chronic pain in outpatient settings. They are not intended for guiding treatment of patients in active cancer treatment, palliative care, or end-of-life care, the CDC noted.

Among the 12 recommendations in the guideline, three principles are key to improving patient care:

  • Nonopioid therapy is preferred for chronic pain outside of active cancer, palliative, and end-of-life care.
  • When opioids are used, the lowest possible effective dosage should be prescribed to reduce risks of opioid use disorder and overdose.
  • Providers should always exercise caution when prescribing opioids and monitor all patients closely.
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