The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released draft guidelines for physicians who prescribe opioid painkillers, which call for a more conservative approach to the drugs’ use.
The guidelines recommend doctors treat chronic pain with methods such as physical therapy and non-opioid painkillers before prescribing opioids, according to The Washington Post.
If doctors choose to prescribe opioids, they should select short-acting versions instead of extended release formulations, the guidelines recommend. Doctors should also prescribe the lowest possible dose, for shorter periods, the CDC said.
Doctors should ask patients to undergo urine testing before they receive an opioid prescription, and to take additional urine tests at least annually if they continue to take the medication, the CDC advised. Testing will ensure that patients are not secretly taking other opioids or illegal drugs, the article notes.
Last week the CDC released data showing more than 47,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2014, up 7 percent from the previous year. The increase was driven largely by deaths from heroin and prescription opioids. Almost 19,000 deaths were due to opioid painkillers, an increase of 16 percent from 2013.
“What we want to just make sure is that doctors understand that starting a patient on an opiate is a momentous decision,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden. “The risks are addiction and death, and the benefits are unproven.”
The guidelines note that three or fewer days of opioid treatment “usually will be sufficient for most non-traumatic pain not related to major surgery.”
The voluntary guidelines were written by a CDC committee, which reviewed more than 100 studies on opioid therapy. They are not meant for physicians who treat patients with severe chronic pain associated with diseases such as late-stage cancer, or those who provide end-of-life care.