In light of the increasing number of overdose deaths, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidelines regarding opioid painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin. According to Law360, the agency is asking health care providers to prescribe the painkillers only as needed and to consider alternatives beforehand. Hydrocodone, the active ingredient in Vicodin, and oxycodone, the active ingredient in OxyContin, are among the most common prescription drugs involved in overdose deaths.
The guidelines are not meant for patients who are terminally ill or in palliative care. The CDC is mostly concerned with opioid painkillers prescribed for patients with chronic pain. “More than 40 Americans die each day from prescription opioid overdoses. We must act now,” said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden in a statement. “Overprescribing opioids — largely for chronic pain — is a key driver of America’s drug-overdose epidemic.”
Opioids are the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths, the CDC says. In 2014, opioid overdose deaths were higher than any other year on record. Opioid deaths have quadrupled since 1999.
In treating patients with chronic pain, the CDC is asking doctors to recommend alternatives such as exercise, cognitive behavioral therapy and anti-inflammatory drugs before giving opioids. If painkillers are prescribed, the agency advises giving the fastest-acting products at low doses with only enough pills to last the duration of the pain. Alternative therapies should still be used in combination with opioids.
In commenting on the guidelines, The American Medical Association stated “While we are largely supportive of the guidelines, we remain concerned about the evidence base informing some of the recommendations, conflicts with existing state laws and product labeling, and possible unintended consequences associated with implementation,” said Dr. Patrice A. Harris, the American Medical Association board chair-elect and chair of the AMA Task Force to Reduce Opioid Abuse in a statement.
Vicodin and OxyContin are not the only drugs accounting for the overdose problem. There have also been issues with illegally made Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid pain medication, and heroin.