The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is jumping on the bandwagon of trying to ebb the flow of the opioid epidemic crisis we are currently in the middle of. The CDC called the epidemic "one of the most pressing public health issues" at the moment, and it released a first-ever kind of guidelines (12 in all) to help people understand how these potentially deadly medications should be used.
The most noteworthy of the guidelines is the suggestion that doctors stop giving patients opioid prescriptions to help them deal with issues involving chronic pain. These kinds of drugs are more suited, according to the CDC, to issues like palliative care, cancer, and end-of-life treatments. Those suffering from chronic pain are encouraged to explore alternative treatment plans, such as physical therapy and non-opioid medications.
The CDC also notes that if a doctor feels an opioid should be used to manage a patient's chronic pain, then it should be done very carefully and with close monitoring, including regular urine tests to detect undisclosed opioid usage. The same goes for those who suffer from acute pain. Per the CDC, they should only be given opioid prescriptions after their doctors have given their particular case a lot of thought, and even then they should only be given the lowest possible dose, and for the shortest possible period of time, which is between three and seven days.
The director of the CDC, Tom Frieden, said in a recent press briefing: “Plainly stated, the risks of opioids are addiction and death, and the benefits for chronic pain are often transient and generally unproven.” He also noted that every day this year, 40 Americans will die from a prescription opioid overdose.
Deborah Dowell, a senior medical advisor at the CDC who also coauthored these new guidelines, brought up the point that despite the fact that chronic pain sufferers account for only five percent of all patients who are currently taking opioids, they may consume as much as 70 percent of the country's total opioid prescriptions. Similarly, those suffering from chronic pain tend to suffer disproportionately from addiction and overdoses.
The CDC is not, however, a regulatory agency, and so doctors are not bound to follow their suggestions by law. However, CDC officials hope that this advice will help curb the startling opioid epidemic in this country. From 2000 to 2014, overdose deaths related to opioids, which included prescription opioids and heroin, skyrocketed to 200 percent. A recent study also found that of those who have suffered overdoses, over 90 percent of them were prescribed even more opioids after the fact. Now that is truly disturbing.
Sylvia Burwell, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) noted that last year, more Americans died from drug overdoses than car crashes. With that in mind, she iterated that combatting the use of opioids and fatal overdoses from them has become a "national priority." The HHS is striving to ensure that naloxone, the drug that reverses opioid overdoses, is given to all first responders so that they are well equipped when arriving on the scene of an overdose.