The clock is ticking on new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to regulate opioid pain-medication prescriptions. The CDC has been receiving some harsh feedback on its strategy, as the country faces a growing number of overdose deaths.
The guidelines are voluntary and meant for treating chronic pain in a primary-care setting. They suggest that physicians use the smallest possible dose of quick-release opioids, and that they consider non-opioid treatment first. They also urge prescribers to use urine drug testing on patients to determine any other drug use.
The omnibus budget deal passed just before the holidays included a requirement that the U.S. Veterans Administration adopt the guidelines. The agency had planned to announce the guidelines earlier, but received criticism for not getting more physician and patient input.
Several members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee recently sent a letter to CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden seeking more information about the 17 people the agency consulted with to develop the guidelines.
Lawmakers said the guidelines must balance the risk of addiction with the need to address chronic pain. “Some groups have raised concern that the proposed guidelines may be insufficient to treat those suffering from chronic pain,” they wrote.
At a public meeting next week, the Board of Scientific Counselors, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control will discuss the background of the guidelines and the formation of a working group on prescribing opioids for chronic pain.
A few health officials told the National Institutes of Health's Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee that the CDC plan was not backed by sufficient evidence.
There were nearly 44,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2013, and more than half of them were from prescription drugs, according to the CDC.
Presidential candidates have also been vocal about the addiction epidemic, which is hitting hard in some early primary states. At a recent Democratic primary debate, all three candidates said doctors are over-prescribing opioids. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) said physicians needed to get their act together. “We cannot have this huge number of opiates out there throughout this country, where young people are taking them, getting hooked and then going to heroin,” he said.
The CDC released a draft of the guidelines a few weeks ago and is accepting comments until Jan. 14.