According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 259 million prescriptions were written for painkillers in 2012, enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills. A national conversation has been taking place as people think about what’s good and what’s bad about this access to medications.
On one side of the debate are proponents of people in pain being able to access medication and treatment. On the other side of the debate are the groups worried that this explosion of prescriptions is covering a very serious drug problem here in the US brought on, in part, by doctors having no protocols for how people take pain meds, how long they should be on them or how to come off.
No matter what “side” you’re on, the CDC has published the following statistics about painkiller use here in the US:
- Each day 46 people die from an overdose of prescription painkillers.
- Many more men than women die of overdoses from prescription painkillers, although the rates of women’s deaths have quadrupled in the last decade.
- Middle-aged adults have the highest prescription painkiller overdose rates.
- People in rural counties are about two times as likely to overdose on prescription painkillers as people in big cities.
- Whites and American Indian or Alaska Natives are more likely to overdose on prescription painkillers.
There have been so many deaths due to prescription opioid overdose that the government has declared it an epidemic. In response, the CDC has issued new recommendations for prescribing opioid medications for chronic pain, excluding cancer, palliative, and end-of-life care. “The CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, United States, 2016 will help primary care providers ensure the safest and most effective treatment for their patients.”
CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden recently stated: “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.”
By using the guideline, primary care physicians can determine if and when to start opioids to treat chronic pain. The guideline also offers specific information on medication selection, dosage, duration, and when and how to reassess progress and discontinue medication if needed.
Some of the keys to the 12 recommendations in the guideline, encourage doctors to prescribe opioids at the lowest possible effective dose to reduce the risks of addiction and overdose and they also encourage prescribing healthcare providers to “exercise caution” when prescribing and to monitor all patients closely.
The CDC developed user-friendly materials to assist providers with implementing the recommendations, including a decision checklist. There are many treatment options for people with pain killer addictions including drug and alcohol treatment centers, both residential and outpatient however, it should be noted that someone addicted to painkillers will likely need a safe detoxification which could include inpatient detox or ambulatory (outpatient) detox. If you’re unsure, call your insurance provider for covered programs near you.