On Tuesday, March 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took an important step in combatting the deadly prescription painkiller epidemic in the United States.
In a first-time move, our nation’s top federal health agency issued guidelines for the dispensing of morphine-like, addictive drugs, such as Vicodin and OxyContin. The agency directed the guidelines to primary care physicians, who prescribe nearly half of opiates.
The guidelines provided an exception for patients receiving cancer treatment or end-of-life care, but urged doctors to avoid prescribing powerful opiate painkillers to those with chronic pain, since the addiction risk far outweigh the benefits.
Additionally, the CDC encouraged doctors to prescribe the lowest possible dose for the shortest amount of time, if it was determine that such drugs were necessary.
Many prescription opiates on the market are as addictive as heroin and have a high risk for overdose. According to the CDC, it is estimated that approximately 40 Americans die each day from overdosing on prescription painkillers. In 2013, an estimated 1.9 million people abused or were dependent on prescription opiates.
The hope is that such guidelines will help physicians determine when to begin or continue opiates, which type of painkiller to choose, how long to administer the drugs and how to weigh their risks.
Those of us in the addiction treatment field, laud this bold move by the CDC. It is time to see the addiction, overdose and death rates due to opiates begin to drop in our country.