CDC Warns Physicians About Prescription Painkiller Abuse
March 15, 2016 – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines warning physicians to take caution when prescribing opioids to patients. This comes as concern about prescription painkiller abuse (and resulting heroin addiction) spreads across the U.S..
The CDC recommended that opioid drugs be avoided, and other pain relievers prescribed in lieu whenever possible. When necessary, low dosages and less than 7 days should be prescribed. While these guidelines are by no means compulsory, the CDC is hoping their statements will bring about a sea change between patients and physicians.
According to CDC Director Tom Frieden:
“We are waking up as a society to the fact that these are dangerous drugs. Starting a patient on opiates is a momentous decision, and it should only be done if the patient and the doctor have a full understanding of the substantial risks involved.”
Congress is currently confronting the issue, and is busy trying to pass legislation which would provide funding for education, prevention and treatment of prescriptions painkiller abuse. It also calls for the wide availability of the life-saving overdose prevention drug, naloxone, Lawmakers who have have pushed the federal government to address the issue with funding and so on, no doubt welcomed the announcement from the CDC.
Frieden also stated that many physicians need to be reminded how to approach prescribing painkillers, particularly as the availability of opioids and abuse potential increases:
“When I went to medical school I had exactly one lecture on pain, and the lecture said if you give an opioid to a patient in pain, they will not get addicted. Completely wrong, and yet a generation of doctors grew up being taught that.”
In previous years, physicians were more likely to be criticized for untreating pain. But according to the CDC, the tipping point came around 2013, when healthcare providers wrote almost 250 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers. Since then, patients have been demanding access to better painkillers.
Officials at the CDC noted that in many circumstances, opioids do not relieve pain as well as some other therapies,such as anti-inflammatory medications or exercise. They are also asking patients to question any physician who is willing to prescribe opioids to them.
Only 5% of patients prescribed opioids are given them for chronic pain – as opposed to cancer therapy, surgery, or end-of-life care. Patients who require the drugs for acute pain are not considered applicable to the CDC’s recommendations.
However, that small percentage account for 70% of opioid painkiller prescriptions. Additionally, more than 70% of patients who die from an overdose of opioids became addicted while being treated for chronic pain.
CDC recommendations also include dosages – physicians are discouraged from prescribed more than 50 morphine mg equivalents daily. Physicians are also cautioned not to prescribe more than 90 morphine mg equivalents per day.
The CDC goes further to encourage physicians to closely monitor the drugs’ effectiveness, and be wary of dangerous interactions, such as those with benzodiazepine (anti-anxiety) medications. They also want to consider using urine tests to ensure the patient isn’t abusing prescription painkiller medications, or other illegal street drugs, such as heroin.
The CDC has been trying to get people involved in the opioid-heroin epidemic for awhile. Gradually, with increased media coverage and government funding, perhaps all their hard work will finally pay off.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology