In Light of Overdose Deaths, CDC Releases New Guidelines for Opioid Painkillers

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is proposing limits for opioid painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, Law360 reports. Due to the rise in overdose deaths, the CDC released new guidelines asking health care providers to consider alternatives before prescribing opioids. The guidelines are not intended for patients who are terminally ill or in palliative care.

Hydrocodone, the active ingredient in Vicodin, and oxycodone, the active ingredient in OxyContin, are among the most common prescription drugs involved in overdose deaths.

According to the CDC, overdose deaths are higher than ever before and most involve opioids. There were more opioid overdose deaths in 2014 than any other year on record. The agency says opioid deaths have increased more than four-fold since 1999. “More than 40 Americans die each day from prescription opioid overdoses. We must act now,” said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden in a statement. “Overprescribing opioids — largely for chronic pain — is a key driver of America’s drug-overdose epidemic.”

The new voluntary guidelines mostly involve focus on adult patients being treated for chronic pain. The CDC advises doctors to consider other options before prescribing opioids. The agency says doctors should first recommend alternatives such as exercise, cognitive behavioral therapy and anti-inflammatory drugs before considering opioids.

If patients do receive opioids, treatment length should be limited and patients should be monitored. The painkillers should be used in combination with alternative therapies, CDC says. The guidelines advise using the fastest-acting products at low doses, with only enough pills to last as long as the pain does.

According to the CDC, overdose problems are not limited to drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin. There have also been issues with illegally made Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid pain medication, and heroin.

In commenting on the guidelines, The American Medical Association stated “While we are largely supportive of the guidelines, we remain concerned about the evidence base informing some of the recommendations, conflicts with existing state laws and product labeling, and possible unintended consequences associated with implementation,” said Dr. Patrice A. Harris, the American Medical Association board chair-elect and chair of the AMA Task Force to Reduce Opioid Abuse in a statement.

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