New draft guidelines for doctors who prescribe opioids to chronic pain patients were issued last week from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
On its website, the CDC states that “improving the way opioids are prescribed through clinical practice guidelines can ensure patients have access to safer, more effective chronic pain treatment while reducing the number of people who misuse, abuse, or overdose from these powerful drugs.” According to Courtney Lenard at the CDC: “the CDC’s top focus in developing these guidelines is improving patient safety and reducing the risk that any more patients will die from an overdose related to mixing medications, using alcohol while on treatment, or taking a dangerous dose of opioids.”
The new draft guidelines recommend “non-pharmacological therapy” as the “preferred” treatment for chronic non-cancer pain. Smaller doses and quantities of opioids are also recommended for patients being treated for acute or chronic pain. A complete list of the guidelines are listed below.
The guidelines are being blasted by a coalition of pain organizations and advocacy groups. A letter signed by the U.S. Pain Foundation, American Chronic Pain Association, American Academy of Pain Management and several other groups was sent this week to the Director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “By addressing only how to limit or avoid opioids, the new guidelines will inevitably result in fewer prescriptions overall – including those needed by patients with legitimate medical needs,” the letter states. The letter goes on to say that “chronic pain advocacy organizations hear daily from increasing numbers of constituents who are not being able to access the opioid medications they’ve relied on to live with their chronic painful conditions. That is not an outcome that anyone involved in chronic pain and prescription opioid diversion and abuse wants but this guideline will produce.”
CDC Draft Guidelines for Opioid Prescribing
1. Non-pharmacological therapy and non-opioid pharmacological therapy are preferred for chronic pain. Providers should only consider adding opioid therapy if expected benefits for both pain and function are anticipated to outweigh risks.
2. Before starting long term opioid therapy, providers should establish treatment goals with all patients, including realistic goals for pain and function. Providers should continue opioid therapy only if there is clinically meaningful improvement in pain and function that outweighs risks to patient safety.
3. Before starting and periodically during opioid therapy, providers should discuss with patients risks and realistic benefits of opioid therapy and patient and provider responsibilities for managing therapy.
4. When starting opioid therapy, providers should prescribe short-acting opioids instead of extended-release/long acting opioids.
5. When opioids are started, providers should prescribe the lowest possible effective dosage. Providers should implement additional precautions when increasing dosage to 50 or greater milligrams per day in morphine equivalents and should avoid increasing dosages to 90 or greater milligrams per day in morphine equivalents.
6. Long-term opioid use often begins with treatment of acute pain. When opioids are used for acute pain, providers should prescribe the lowest effective dose of short-acting opioids and should prescribe no greater quantity than needed for the expected duration of pain severe enough to require opioids. Three or fewer days will usually be sufficient for non-traumatic pain not related to major surgery.
7. Providers should evaluate patients within 1 to 4 weeks of starting long-term opioid therapy or of dose escalation to assess benefits and harms of continued opioid therapy. Providers should evaluate patients receiving long-term opioid therapy every 3 months or more frequently for benefits and harms of continued opioid therapy. If benefits do not outweigh harms of continued opioid therapy, providers should work with patients to reduce opioid dosage and to discontinue opioids when possible.
8. Before starting and periodically during continuation of opioid therapy, providers should evaluate risk factors for opioid-related harms. Providers should incorporate into the management plan strategies to mitigate risk, including considering offering naloxone when factors that increase risk for opioid-related harms are present.
9. Providers should review the patient’s history of controlled substance prescriptions using state Prescription Drug Monitoring Program data to determine whether the patient is receiving excessive opioid dosages or dangerous combinations that put him/her at high risk for overdose. Providers should review Prescription Monitoring Program data when starting opioid therapy and periodically during long-term opioid therapy (ranging from every prescription to every 3 months).
10. Providers should use urine drug testing before starting opioids for chronic pain and consider urine drug testing at least annually for all patients on long-term opioid therapy to assess for prescribed medications as well as other controlled substances and illicit drugs.
11. Providers should avoid prescribing of opioid pain medication and benzodiazepines concurrently whenever possible.
12. Providers should offer or arrange evidence-based treatment (usually opioid agonist treatment in combination with behavioral therapies) for patients with opioid use disorder.