CDC Issues New Guidelines for Prescribing Opioids

March 17, 2016|6:02 p.m.| Scott Briscoe

This week the CDC released new guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain. For many years, all levels of the public health enterprise, from federal to state to local, have been working on the challenges that opioid medications present. On the one hand, they can be effective drugs that alleviate suffering. On the other, they can be cripplingly addictive, so much so that opioid addiction is routinely referred to as an epidemic, just like Ebola, HIV, or other devastating diseases that kill and harm thousands or millions of people.

The CDC issued 12 guidelines that attempt to balance the good vs. the harm that opioids can do. According to their press release, the following three principles underpin the guidelines:

  • 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.

In remarks on the guidelines, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said, “What brings us here today is our commitment to equip health professionals with tools they need to fight this epidemic. We need to help primary care providers make the most informed prescribing decision,  balancing the need to manage their patient's chronic pain with the duty to curb dangerous prescribing practices.”

CDC has developed a wide range of tools that state health agencies and other health organizations can use to educate healthcare providers and patients about the new guidelines. For clinicians, for example, there is a Checklist for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain; for patients a plain language fact sheet; and for health organizations graphics and messaging that can be used in social media and other promotions.

State health agencies have been at the vanguard in working to reverse the blight of opioid addiction. To see examples and ideas of what states are doing, see ASTHO’s Prescription Drug Misuse and Abuse site, particularly the Profiles of State Actions to Prevent and Treat Prescription Drug Abuse, which gives state-by-state information.

Also, see these previous posts on the topic:

Scott Briscoe is senior director of communications and marketing for ASTHO.