The US has a serious opioid problem.
An estimated 2.1 million Americans suffers from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers.
To combat that, the CDC has put together a draft of guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain.
The guidelines are designed to help family doctors and general practitioners who prescribe opioid painkillers, a category of medications that includes drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin.
The number of deaths related to overdosing on opioid pain relievers has been on the rise over the past decade, eclipsing deaths related to heroin overdoses.
The CDC’s guidelines, which will be open for public comment through January 13, give suggestions for how opioid painkillers should be prescribed. Importantly, the guidelines aren’t binding; they’re also not intended for doctors who treat people with chronic pain linked with diseases like advanced-stage cancer.
Here are some of the main takeaways for doctors:
- Physicians should only prescribe opioid painkillers if and when the benefits, such as relief from painful surgical operations or injuries, outweigh the costs, such as potential physical dependence and addiction. Doctors and patients should re-evaluate pain-management plans every 3 months.
- Physicians should set up goals for pain management with their patients to prevent extended treatment.
- For patients just going on treatment, short-acting opioid painkillers should be used instead of long lasting or extended-release versions, and doctors should aim to start patients on the lowest-possible dosage.
- Physicians should review the patient’s history of controlled substance prescriptions and use urine drug tests to look for the prescribed medications as well as other not-so-prescribed drugs.
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