Now that the opioid epidemic has been recognized as a nationwide issue, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued new guidelines for prescribing opioid medications for chronic pain. The new guidelines do not pertain to prescribing for conditions related to cancer, palliative treatment, and end-of-life care. Rather, the guidelines are aimed at primary care providers who, according to the CDC, account for nearly half of all opioid prescriptions. In developing the new guidelines, the CDC sites troubling statistics regarding the extent of the opioid epidemic, including that more than 40 Americans die each day from prescription opioid overdoses. Hence, the new guidelines are aimed to improve safety and curtail the harms associated with opioid use.

Among the 12 specific recommendations outlined in the CDC guidelinesi, three principal areas can be highlighted as keys to improving patient care:

  • Non-opioid therapy is preferred for treating chronic pain deriving from conditions not involving cancer, palliative, and end-of-life care.
  • When opioids are used, the lowest possible effective dosage should be prescribed to reduce risk of opioid use disorder and overdose.
  • Providers should always exercise caution when prescribing opioids and monitor all patients closely.

In addition to releasing the new guidelines, the CDC has indicated it will continue to work with states, communities, and prescribers to further address the issues of opioid misuse and overdose. Further, the CDC pledges to continue to assist and complement state’s efforts to establish effective prevention and treatment programs.

Licensed prescribers should be aware of these new guidelines and seek to promptly implement them into their practices. While not carrying the same effect as regulations passed by State licensing boards, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and other administrative and legislative entities, the CDC’s guidelines represent the next evolution in standards of care for prescribing opioid medications for chronic pain and such standards of care apply to licensed prescribers. Failure to follow such guidelines could expose licensed prescribers to disciplinary action and/or further ramifications for those who do not adhere to such recommendations.