Fewer Opioid Prescriptions: Three of the Newest CDC Guidelines for Opioid Use
Anyone tuned into substance abuse issues in the United States knows there’s been a growing epidemic of opioid-based prescription medication abuse. But what, if any, role should the government take in addressing this national health crisis? This month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) spoke out on the issue of opioid-based prescription medication abuse by releasing a series of guidelines aimed at primary care physicians, intended to curb prescription opioid abuse. Here are three of the most important things you should know about the new guidelines.
- Opioids should be a last resort. A doctor has many tools at his/her disposal to treat the patients s/he sees on a daily basis; prescription medications are just one way to treat an illness. In the past when there was no perceived correlation between prescription opioids and negative health outcomes, prescribing an opioid-based painkiller was often a non-issue. The strength of the prescription ensured pain was effectively minimized with minimal discomfort on the patient’s end. But now that the potentially harmful effects of opioids have come to light, the CDC is urging primary care physicians to prescribe opioids only as a last resort. If there is an effective way to help a patient manage pain, so the logic goes, that possibility should be pursued before exposing the patient to the dangers of substance abuse and addiction.
- Less is more. According to the CDC’s new guidelines, if after exhausting all other possible treatment modalities a physician has determined that prescription opioids are the best option to facilitate a patient’s pain management plan, the shortest duration and smallest dose possible of the prescription should be used. Ultimately the short-term gain patients may see from taking prescription opioids is heavily counter-balanced by the propensity for abuse and addiction inherit to prescription opioids. When considering the length and intensity of a prescription for opioid-based pain management medications, the most cautious plan of progression is advisable in order to minimize the risk of addiction.
- Suggestions are not law. Even though the two aforementioned guidelines may seem self-explanatory or even common sense, here’s the catch: these guidelines are still just medical recommendations, not legal requirements or regulations. So although the CDC recommends that physicians take certain precautions when prescribing prescription opioids, physicians themselves are not obligated to exercise these recommended precautions. This means that if you are or become a candidate for prescription opioids as a method of pain management, it will be up to you to talk with your physician and ensure that all other arguably less risky treatment modalities have been exhausted.
Although the CDC recently released guidelines overwhelmingly encouraging primary care physicians to exercise restraint in prescribing prescription opioids as pain management medications, in reality it is still up to physicians to determine how much and of what a patient needs in order to recover from an illness or injury. If you are concerned with your own predisposition to addiction or that of a loved one, make sure you talk to your doctor about exactly why they think prescription opioids are a good fit and what steps you can take to prevent abuse. What might be a small change for your physician could mean a life-or-death difference for you in your physical recovery.