Thousands of Americans are dying every month from the deadly opioid epidemic that’s sweeping the nation, but new tools, issued by the CDC Tuesday, will hopefully help providers put a stop to it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just released a handful of new resources as part of its ongoing fight to address deaths from heroin and prescription pain pill overdoses. Those include a checklist to use when prescribing opioids, a fact sheet about some of the alternative treatments for chronic pain, and tips on calculating the safest dosage of drugs like hydrocodone and oxycodone.
As explored in the Hospitals & Health Networks March cover story, 2014 set a high-water mark for the number of overdose deaths from opioids, at 28,647. The epidemic is clearly worsening — with opioid deaths quadrupling since 2000 — and the CDC wants to take rapid action to address it.
“More than 40 Americans die each day from prescription opioid overdoses. We must act now,” Director Tom Frieden, M.D., said in a press release issued Tuesday. “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 package of resources also contains 12 best practices for primary care providers to follow in prescribing opioid pain relievers for chronic pain, which we reported on in our cover story. You can read more about those guidelines, too, in an article published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Three key takeaways from the guidelines, the CDC states, are:
- Non-opioid therapy is preferred for chronic pain outside of advanced cancer, palliative and end-of-life care.
- When opioids are used, the lowest possible effective dosage should be prescribed to reduce risks of opioid-use disorder and overdose.
- Providers should always exercise caution when prescribing opioids and monitor all patients closely.
Members of the health care field, meanwhile, applauded the CDC for taking swift action to address the epidemic. As noted in our March story, hospitals across the country, from rural areas to urban metropolises, are seeing the effects of this crisis in their emergency departments and primary care clinics every day. About 1,500 people died during the 30-day comment period for the CDC guidelines a few months ago.
“Too many families have experienced devastating loss due to a loved one’s addiction to opioids,” American Hospital Association President and CEO Rick Pollack said in a statement Tuesday. “That’s why the need for sound clinical guidance is urgent and we appreciate the CDC’s leadership on this critical public health issue. The more we can do at every turn to help patients with safe, effective pain management — which could include the proper use of opioids — the better we can stem the tide of the opioid abuse epidemic.”
Opioids have been a hot-button issue on the Hill as, in Congress, more than 30 opioid-related measures have been introduced. Just last week, the Senate passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act by a vote of 94–1. The bill authorizes several new treatment and prevention programs to be administered by the Department of Justice, strengthens prescription drug monitoring programs, and increases disposal sites for prescription medications, the New York Times reports. Senate Democrats attempted to add $600 million in emergency funding to the measure, but chose not to oppose the bill when that effort failed.
The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration, where the House Judiciary Committee chairman has said he will evaluate the measure's cost and adequacy in addressing the problem. It’s far from the only legislative remedy in the works to address the ongoing drug overdose epidemic that is now the leading cause of injury-related deaths in the nation, killing more people each year than car crashes.
On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions is expected to take up three separate bills addressing opioid abuse. Those include amending the Controlled Substances Act to allow doctors to dispense detoxification and maintenance drugs to a greater number of patients. Another allows docs to co-prescribe opioids and the overdose antidote naloxone at the same time to patients. A third aims to help strengthen prescription drug-monitoring programs across the country.