The Center for Disease Control issued new guidelines for the prescription of opiates last week, part of a recent effort to stem the tide of opioid-related deaths. According to new data, opioid use killed more than 28,000 people in the United States in 2014, and about half of those deaths were a result of the abuse of a prescribed drug–clearly, changes must be made in the way these sensitive, potentially dangerous drugs are given to patients. In a media release, Agency Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., said:

More than 40 Americans die each day from prescription opioid overdoses; we must act now. Overprescribing opioids—largely for chronic pain—is a key driver of America’s drug-overdose epidemic. The guideline will give physicians and patients the information they need to make more informed decisions about treatment.

The specific guidelines include 12 recommendations based on a few simple principles. The CDC now recommends that doctors consider other options for pain management before they prescribe opioids, including over-the-counter medication and non-pharmacological treatment. If opioids are found to be the best choice, patients should start on the lowest possible dose, which should then be increased in gradual increments. And, finally, opioids should really only be prescribed in worst-case scenarios, like cancer and end-of-life care.

These new recommendations will help well-intentioned doctors better manage their patients’ pain, and help patients receive safer and more effective treatment. As patients’ access to opioids is diminished, it is hoped that addiction rates will fall–saving many lives.

Submitted by Lloyd Fitzsimmons

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