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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

CDC Guidelines Aimed at Ending Opiate Abuse

(CN) - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued the first national standards for the usage of opioid painkillers on Tuesday, hoping to offer prescription guidelines to stem the rising tide of addiction and recreational use.

The CDC's guidelines recommend ideal situations for the prescription of opioids and duration of use, and are nonbinding. They come on the heels of significant debate between doctors, pharmaceutical companies and health groups

Under the guidelines, doctors are advised to prescribe ibuprofen or aspirin before resorting to opiate-based medications. The CDC also recommends that doctors limit opioid treatment to three and up to seven days if necessary. Currently, doctors often prescribe two to four weeks' worth of opiate-based drugs at a time.

Exceptions include patients receiving medications for cancer or end-of-life treatment.

"More than 40 Americans die each day from prescription opioid overdoses, we must act now," CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden said in a statement. "Overprescribing opioids - largely for chronic pain - is a key driver of America's drug-overdose epidemic."

That epidemic's figures are stark: in 2014, nearly 29,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription painkillers and heroin, a 14 percent increase from 2013.

While the recommendations are significant and likely to have national ramifications, many of the findings and guidelines have already been implemented by several states or encouraged by various medical groups.

Pain-management doctors and pharmaceutical companies oppose the new guidelines, arguing that the standards place undue burden on patients dealing with long-term pain. The recommendations took almost two years to develop.

Other opponents of the guidelines have argued that they were prepared without enough input from leading health advocacy groups. They question whether some of the limits are purely arbitrary.

The release of the new guidelines Tuesday mark a long-awaited response to the significant societal health problems caused by opiate addiction, which became a more pronounced problem after pharmaceutical companies introduced them in the 1990s as a way to treat various pain, injuries and health conditions - claiming they carried little risk of addiction.

Some of the leading opiate-based drugs include Vicodin, Percocet and OxyContin.

"Doctors want to help patients in pain and are worried about opioid misuse and addiction," Dr. Debra Houry, director of CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, said in a statement. "This guideline will help equip them with the knowledge and guidance needed to talk with their patients about how to manage pain in the safest, most effective manner."

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