New guidelines have been released by the The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that encourage doctors to avoid prescribing opioids to their patients and instead offer treatment alternatives such as physical therapy or non-addictive painkillers.
Though opioids have many positive benefits medically, the risk has been increasingly outweighing the benefit. For every five people who are addicted to heroin four of them started with opioid prescription for pain management. In contrast, 40 people die each day in America from drug overdoses and a large majority of them are from prescription opioids or heroin.
“We know of no other medication routinely used for a nonfatal condition that kills patients so frequently,” said CDC director Thomas Frieden. “We hope to see fewer deaths from opiates. That’s the bottom line. These are really dangerous medications that carry the risk of addiction and death.”
The new guidelines will improve informed decision making, improve communication, and allow for appropriate prescribing.
“For the first time, the federal government is communicating clearly that the widespread practice of treating common pain conditions with long-term opioids is inappropriate,” said Andrew Kolodny, executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing. “The CDC is making it perfectly clear that medical practice needs to change because we’re harming pain patients and fueling a public health crisis.”
Before Prescribing Opioids, doctors should:
Use nonopioid treatment
Considering non-addictive painkillers before prescribing opioids is recommendation number one.
Start low and go slow
When prescribing opioids, starting patients on the lowest effective dose.
Prior to prescribing opioid painkillers, check to ensure the patient hasn’t been prescribed high dosages of opioids from other doctors or providers.
Offer treatment for opioid use disorder
If doctors suspect a patient has a substance abuse disorder, they should offer evidence-based treatment options.
Avoid concurrent prescribing
Doctors should try to avoid prescribing opioids with conflicting medications whenever possible.
These guidelines, however, are not mandatory and in order to really save lives they need to be. It’s a long awaited baby step in the right direction.
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