New CDC Opioid Guidelines Designed To Fight Addiction Epidemic

New CDC opioid guidelines were issued earlier this week in a bid to stem the growing tide of opioid addiction in the United States. The new opioid guidelines drafted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were designed to guide physicians in their practice and include several recommendations for changes to existing policy.

The opioid group of drugs includes morphine, heroin, and a number of prescription painkillers such as oxycodone (or OxyContin), hydrocodone, and methadone which represent the issue driving the new CDC opioid guidelines.

The new CDC opioid guidelines are based on hard research and facts. According to CDC data, 2014 was a banner year for all deaths due to drug overdose. To put the tragedy into perspective, more than 500,000 Americans died of drug overdoses from 2000 to 2014 or about 78 Americans every single day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 60 percent of those deaths were due to opioids – the driving force behind the new CDC opioid guidelines.

That boils down to the fact that opioid addiction killed more than 28,000 people in the United States in 2014. The figure represents the largest number of Americans killed by opioids of any year on record, and at least half of all those opioid overdose deaths resulted from the misuse of a prescribed drug.

The CDC makes the case for new opioid guidelines clear on their website and the simple math is compelling. The amount of prescriptions written for opioids has quadrupled since 1999, without a similar increase in the amount of pain that was reported by Americans. Deaths from prescription opioid use have likewise quadrupled since 1999. Agency Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. outlined the reasoning behind the CDC opioid guidelines in a media release.

"More than 40 Americans die each day from prescription opioid overdoses, we must act now. Overprescribing opioids - largely for chronic pain - is a key driver of America's drug-overdose epidemic. The guideline will give physicians and patients the information they need to make more informed decisions about treatment."
The new CDC opioid guidelines include 12 specific recommendations based on three basic principles. The first of these states that opioids should not be the first choice for treatment of chronic pain (with the exception of cancer, palliative, or end-of-life care). Non-opioid drugs or non-pharmacological treatments such as physiotherapy should be the preferred treatment. Second, the new CDC opioid guidelines recommend using the lowest possible dose whenever oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone, or other opioids are prescribed. Lastly, the CDC opioid guidelines advise that doctors and other medical practitioners be extremely cautious about opioid prescriptions overall and monitor their patients carefully.
The CDC's new opioid guidelines follow the passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, or CARA, earlier this month. The bill passed through the Senate 94-1 with bipartisan support, although GOP senators rejected an amendment that would have added $600 million in emergency funding for communities hardest hit by what The Hill is calling a "drug epidemic."

Among other things, CARA authorizes funding for programs that fight prescription opioid abuse. Other initiatives include $25 million in grant money available to states who require physicians and others to participate in the computerized Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs that track opioid prescriptions. This should help track situations where patients go "doctor shopping" -- or simply try doctor after doctor until one of them fills a prescription for an opioid drug.

The new CDC opioid guidelines tackle a growing problem that a Washington Post editorial called "long-neglected."

[Photo by Brian Goodman/Shutterstock]