- On Monday, the CDC published draft guidelines aimed at slowing the growth of opioid prescriptions for chronic pain. Drug overdose from prescription opioids like OxyContin and Percocet has increased sharply in the U.S., particularly over the last decade.
- The guidelines encourage primary care physicians to turn to alternatives other than opioids for managing patient pain, as well as recommending lower doses and shorter-acting opioids.
- Public comments are requested on the guidelines through January 13th, 2016, which will delay the originally planned date of next month for final issuance. If finalized, the recommendations would be non-binding for physicians.
These recommendations were released on the heels of 2014 data showing a spike in the number of deaths from opioid overdose in the U.S. Last year, 18,893 people died from opioid overdose, a 16% year over year increase. Over the past decade, overdose deaths have increased by roughly 73%.
Overdose deaths have risen in parallel with overall prescription growth, as the total amount of drugs dispensed quadrupled since 1999.
In light of this, the CDC is pressing for more stringent guidelines for physicians who prescribe these drugs to patients. Oftentimes, opioids are prescribed to manage chronic or acute pain. However, the guidelines suggest doctors opt for shorter-acting, lower dosages and try to prescribe three days worth (or fewer) of the drugs, apart from cases related to major surgery.
Additionally, the agency recommends doctors should conduct urine drug tests before prescribing opioids to check if patients are already abusing painkillers.
Originally, the CDC had planned to release the final guidelines next month. With the comment period scheduled through January 13th, 2016, and a further review to follow, the final issuance will likely be delayed. The CDC has faced criticism arguing the guidelines will limit pain relief for patients who need it.
In another piece of research published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found 57% of opioid prescriptions are filed by 10% of doctors. However, this is in line with patterns for other drugs, suggesting the rise in prescriptions hasn't been driven by an unusually small share of doctors.