Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its Guidelines for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain in 2016, physicians have relied on the document for recommendations when prescribing pain medication to their patients. However, because the CDC did not specifically clarify the guidelines in the original release, many physicians’ groups have been concerned the guidelines were misapplied to the detriment of pain patients.
The CDC issued the guideline in March 2016 in an attempt to curb widespread opioid abuse, which claimed more than 20,000 U.S. lives in the previous year along. The guideline was intended for primary care clinicians and advised them to prescribe treatments other than opioids for chronic pain outside of active cancer treatment, palliative care and end-of-life care.
Three years later, more than 300 health care professionals wrote to the CDC urging clarification of the guideline and suggesting the possibility it is being misapplied by physicians and insurers, and even harming patients. The letter was signed by prominent medical experts, including three former White House “drug czars” who served in the Obama, Clinton and Nixon administrations. The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine’s Professor Stefan G. Kertesz, M.D., is also one of the signees of the letter.
“We urge the CDC to issue a bold clarification about the 2016 guideline — what it says and what it does not say, particularly on the matters of opioid taper and discontinuation,” the group wrote in the letter, which was also sent to leaders of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Senate Committee on Health Education Labor and Pensions.
In a letter released publicly in April, the CDC said the guidelines were not intended to deny chronic pain patients relief from opioids and encouraged physicians to use their “clinical judgment” in prescribing the medications, which can be addictive. The letter also spoke specifically to the use of opioids in the treatment of cancer and sickle cell patients, making it clear the guideline was not meant to limit access to pain management for patients with these conditions.