The US has a serious opioid problem.
An estimated 2.1 million Americans suffers from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers.
To combat that, on Tuesday the CDC released finalized guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain.
The guidelines are designed to help family doctors and general practitioners who prescribe opioid painkillers, a category of medications that includes drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin.
The number of deaths related to overdosing on opioid pain relievers has been on the rise over the past decade, eclipsing deaths related to heroin overdoses. CDC Director Tom Frieden tweeted about the news, stressing the need to use alternatives to opioids.
For the majority of patients, there are effective alternatives to the known, serious, and too-often fatal risks of #opioids.
— Dr. Anne Schuchat (@CDCDirector) March 15, 2016
Here are some of the main takeaways for doctors:
- Doctors should try to use other treatments first, before opting for opioids, and short time frames are preferred (days, rather than months for chronic pain). Physicians should only prescribe opioid painkillers if and when the benefits, such as relief from painful surgical operations or injuries, outweigh the costs, such as potential physical dependence and addiction. Doctors and patients should re-evaluate pain-management plans every 3 months. For patients just going on treatment doctors should start patients on the lowest-possible dosage.