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New Federal Guidelines For Doctors Prescribing Opioids

Sue Ogracki

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued the first federal guidelines for prescribing opioid painkillers this week. The guidelines have 12 main recommendations for prescribing opioids to manage chronic pain. One suggestion is that doctors prescribe opioids for three days at a time. That’s about 20 pills.

Michael Carius, an emergency medicine doctor in Connecticut, says: “It’s not unusual to see people getting prescriptions for 300 pills at a time.” Carius helped write the state’s opioid prescription guidelines for hospitals. He says the new CDC guidelines are useful because they help doctors explain to patients why they might be changing prescriptions.

“I don’t think that they’ve said anything that’s revolutionary in the guidelines. But I think that it does spell out the science that’s behind it. And I think that’s really important to convince people to change their practices,” he said.

The CDC guidelines are about 50 pages long and include more than 200 references to research studies on opioid use. So, why do federal guidelines need research to convince doctors to follow them?

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) says the guidelines are not law; they are voluntary.

“These new [opioid prescribing] guidelines are overdue but a very positive step that will help stem addiction and save lives, as long as they are respected by the prescribers,” he said.

Blumenthal says over-prescribing pain pills feeds the country’s opioid addiction crisis. Since 2000, the CDC says overdose deaths from opioids, including heroin, have increased by 200 percent nationwide.

Cassandra Basler, a former senior editor at WSHU, came to the station by way of Columbia Journalism School in New York City. When she's not reporting on wealth and poverty, she's writing about food and family.
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